Reading and working on computers can result in damage to the eyes - but it can be prevented People look after their bodies by eating healthily and exercising regularly. But all too often they neglect their eyes. The American Optometric Association estimates 'as much as 80 per cent of the learning a child does takes place through his or her eyes'. Students spend a lot of their days reading, writing and using computers. The association says a child's eyesight may change frequently during school years. The most common problems are due to the development and progression of shortsightedness - myopia. David S. H. Wong, director of The Eye Institute at the University of Hong Kong (HKU), says: 'Myopia is determined genetically, and it is very high among Chinese people and low among northern Europeans.' Professor Wong says the number of new cases of myopia is on the rise and is related to close visual work and the intensity of concentration. He adds studies have found a relationship between academic achievement and myopia. He says 90 to 95 per cent of medical students at HKU have myopia. But a study by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) in 2002 showed myopia is more prevalent among ethnic Chinese children, regardless of how hard they study. So what can be done to prevent the progression of myopia? According to the American Optometric Association, it is a question of how a person uses their eyes, even in those who have inherited myopia. Long periods spent reading, working on a computer or doing any other close visual work is likely to result in shortsightedness. Professor Wong recommends children lead a more balanced lifestyle by taking part in more outdoor activities and spending less time playing video games. Anyone developing vision problems should consult an optometrist, who may prescribe eyeglasses or contact lenses. Contact lenses are usually prescribed to teenagers as long as they make a commitment to be responsible for the care of their eyes and contact lenses. Contact lenses have to be cleaned and disinfected daily, and eye health needs to be carefully monitored. Square eyes Many young people work or play on computers for long periods of time. This puts a strain on the eyes. Prevent computer vision problems by watching for the symptoms - double or blurred vision, headaches, eye irritation, or dry or red eyes - and doing the following: Blink often: Normally there is a film of tears which forms just above the lower eyelid. Blinking spreads this film over the eye. When looking at a computer, people blink less or stop blinking altogether. Working in an air-conditioned room makes matters worse since this film of tears evaporates and so the eyes will feel dry and become red. Artificial tear drops or tear gels will help prevent dry eyes. Adjust the height of the workstation: The computer screen should be tilted slightly downwards at a 14- or 15-degree angle. An adjustable chair should solve this problem. The recommended distance between the monitor and user is about 60cm. Limit computer use: Take regular 10-minute breaks every hour. Check the lighting: Make sure there is no glare on the computer screen. Close the curtains or buy glare screens for the computer monitor. Glasses made specially for computer use are available.