08/20/2015 06:04 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2016

The Link Between Vision and Productivity

Bloomberg via Getty Images

You might have missed what appeared to be an insignificant economic statistic in late spring when it was released. The Conference Board reported that world productivity continued to putter along last year, staying stationary from the year before. For most of us, this economic indicator doesn't have much importance in our daily lives; however, it is a prime factor influencing corporate profits worldwide, which keep the global economy humming.

I started thinking about productivity and the difference it makes in our lives. I know the days that I get a lot done, I have a feeling of accomplishment and purpose. And those days when I don't get much crossed off my to-do list, I feel frustrated and stressed.

Research has shown that productivity can be separated into two categories -- absenteeism and presenteeism. While we know about the former, the latter describes workers who are present but not fully productive, often because of a health-related issue, such as discomfort, depression, anxiety or pain.

Eye sight can be a factor for many workers' on-the-job discomfort -- and they may not be aware of it.

This is especially true for those with presbyopia -- trouble seeing items close to the eye, a condition that usually appears in people starting in their 40s. Using a computer on the job can cause ergonomic pain, as the typical bifocal lens is designed for reading at a low angle and a distance of about 16 inches. Desktop monitors are usually placed higher and farther away (about 20 inches), so those with vision problems will tilt their heads back to view the computer. Doing that all day long results in pain and discomfort, which can reduce productivity.

Around the world, especially in areas without first-rate healthcare programs, uncorrected vision is a major cause of lost productivity. The World Health Organization reports that URE (uncorrected refractive error) for distance has been shown to be the main cause of low vision and the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts. WHO estimates point to URE as a bigger cause of productivity loss globally than any other preventable vision disorders with from 0.8-4.0 percent of the world's population affected by visual impairment at an estimated cost of more than $272 billion.

David B. Rein, Ph.D., published research in JAMA Ophthalmology in 2006 showing that more than 3.6 million Americans suffered from visual impairment, blindness or other eye diseases in 2004 -- creating a financial burden totaling $35.4 billion. And $8 billion of that total was in loss of productivity. The annual impact to the U.S. government budget was $13.7 billion. That's a lot of money lost in our economy.

The first step in recapturing that lost productivity is to correctly diagnose vision problems. Regular eye exams by trained eye care providers are important for all of us. Often people don't know they have a vision issue because they only know what they see. The vision they have is normal to them, and they can only assume that everyone sees the same way they do. An accurate prescription for corrective lenses can open the world for someone who didn't know what they weren't seeing.

An annual exam is especially important for those older than 40. Many changes in vision can start when we reach middle age. And often our eyes give doctors insights into underlying health issues such as diabetes and hypertension. Warning signs of changing eyes include cloudy or blurry vision, colors that seem faded, trouble seeing at night, double or multiple vision and loss of peripheral sight.

Vision problems can make work a lot harder than it should be. The good news is that URE is curable. The technology behind corrective lenses has never been better than today. In addition, special computer glasses are on the market that can help those who sit at a monitor all day long prevent eye strain, as well as muscle pain from craning their neck.

Seeing better does make work easier; and that makes it easier to get more done.