Sant Jordi 2016: Myths and truths about reading and vision

Sant Jordi 2016: Myths and truths about reading and vision

The Catalan festivity of Sant Jordi (Saint George), celebrated in Catalonia on 23rd April, is approaching, and during this day reading gets a bigger focus as people, following the tradition, buy a book to their loved ones. This day is a good moment to think about reading, a very complex activity including visual script identification in which eyes play an essential role.

There’s usually a myth that reading too much can harm our vision or that reading without the appropriate lighting can cause visual problems. But, are all those myths really true?

Reading is not a harmful activity for the eyes. Visual exercise does not wear the eyes out nor damage them, contrary to the claims of some myths. Eyes are organs ready to adapt to the changing lighting conditions which are present in our environment. Pupil muscles control the amount of light entering the eye, in a way that, when we go into a dark room, our eyes slowly adjust to lighting conditions and we get to see, or that when we go from darkness to light, we gradually start to see without discomforts.

When we read in dim light, rod cells from retina containing a special pigment called rhodopsin are the ones allowing us to see in such conditions.

However, reading with dim light makes it difficult to see and recognise words, which makes reading more tiring and exhausting. This may cause asthenopia or eye strain (fatigue, headaches…), although reading itself does not damage our eyes, as when we close the eyelids, eyes relax and recover.

Therefore, it is advisable to read with an appropriate natural lighting, blink often and rest your eyes every once in a while when reading. Furthermore, people who need reading glasses should not forget to use them when reading.

In case you read over long periods, you can follow some advices:

  • Turn away your eyes from the book from time to time, looking at four distant points: up, down, left and right, keeping your eyes focused in each point for about two or three seconds.
  • Blink repeatedly. Blinking spreads teardrops and creates a protective film which avoids dry eyes.
  • Close your eyes and relax with your eyes closed for a couple of minutes.

 

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