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Myths & Old Wivesí Tales About Your Eyes




by Melvin Rubin, M.D., M.S. and Lawrence Winograd, M.D.

There are more old wives' tales about the eye and vision than you can shake a stick at! Some of them are outrageously impossible. Others have just enough believeability that they deserve to be dealt with. Let's look at some of these myths and tales and set them straight.

MYTH: Reading in dim or poor light is harmful to your eyes, may ruin them, or may cause you to need eyeglasses.

TRUTH: Your eyes are not harmed by reading in dim light. They may get tired because of the extra effort it takes to see clearly, but no damage will occur.

MYTH: Using the eyes too much for close work such as reading is the reason people need glasses (or need bifocals).

TRUTH: There is no hard evidence that using your eyes to read, study, work, etc. will cause you to need glasses. Any nearsightedness is probably due to your heredity. If you need bifocals to see up close, blame your longevity.

MYTH: Using your eyes too much can wear them out.

TRUTH: Eyes are not like light bulbs! They can last your entire lifetime if they are healthy (or have conditions that are treatable). Their health has nothing to do with the number of hours you use them.

MYTH: Holding reading material up close will damage a child's eyes.

TRUTH: The place where reading material is held has no effect on the health of the eyes or the need for glasses. Many children find it comfortable to read close-up and their very good focusing ability makes it easy for them to do so. (Nearsighted children hold things close to their eyes because they see much better at close range. However, this does not cause nearsightedness to develop.)

MYTH: Wearing someone else's glasses may damage your eyes.

TRUTH: Although you may not see very well with them, no harm can come from wearing eyeglasses that are not your prescription.

MYTH: Wearing glasses all the time will make you so dependent on them that you will see poorly without them.

TRUTH: Wearing eyeglasses will never make your eyes worse. Some refractive errors increase as you get older. If you have been wearing glasses, they may appear to be responsible, but they are not. Also, once you have enjoyed clear vision with glasses, it may seem that your eyes are worse when you take them off.

MYTH: If you need corrective lenses, your eyes are not healthy.

TRUTH: The need for eyeglasses has nothing to do with the health of your eyes. You simply have a normal variation in the size, length, or shape of one or more parts of the eyeball, or some changes that occur normally with age.

MYTH: Exercises can correct nearsightedness (myopia).

TRUTH: There is no evidence that any type of exercise makes any difference. Some people with myopia can learn to squint their lids together, which can momentarily improve their vision enough to pass eye tests, but this will not change the myopia.

MYTH: The wrong diet can cause you to need glasses. A good diet can do away with your need to wear glasses.

TRUTH: There is no scientific evidence that diet plays any role in the need for glasses, nor will a change in diet or a special diet or vitamins make any difference. This myth may be based on the fact that there are a few eye diseases related to lack of vitamins or to malnutrition, especially in people who are the victims of famine or primitive conditions.

MYTH: Eating a lot of carrots will give you good eyes and eyesight.

TRUTH: The only basis for this myth is that carrots contain vitamin A, which, in small amounts, is necessary for the eyes to function. A normal diet contains all the vitamin A anyone needs. Too much may even be damaging to your health.

MYTH: Daily eye exercises will keep the eye muscles in good tone.

TRUTH: Being alive and looking around at your world is all that is necessary to keep your muscles "toned." Any extra effort is a waste of time and has no benefit.

MYTH: If you cross your eyes on purpose, they can get stuck there.

TRUTH: There is no way that you can make your eyes cross permanently. (So leave your kids alone when they do it to aggravate you.)

MYTH: Surgery will not be necessary for crossed eyes or other eye muscle problems if proper exercises are done.

TRUTH: Many eye muscle problems respond to treatment by glasses, patching and orthoptics (special eye exercises). Others can only be corrected with surgery, which is sometimes supplemented with exercises.

MYTH: If you masturbate, you can cause a need for glasses.

TRUTH: No, there is no way that this ridiculous myth can be true.

MYTH: It is safe to look at an eclipse of the sun through several darkened negatives or a piece of smoked glass.

TRUTH: It is never safe to look directly at an eclipse through any device except those scientifically designed for that purpose. Because people believe the myth, eclipses of the sun create a lot of visual loss.

MYTH: Prolonged viewing of computer screens damages your eyes.

TRUTH: There is no scientific evidence that any permanent damage to your eyes can occur in this way.

MYTH: Sitting too close to the TV set is bad for your eyes. To keep from damaging your eyes, view television is a dark room with only a small lamp on top of the set.

TRUTH: Whether the room is dark or lighted, or whether the light is in front of or behind you, is a matter of personal preference and comfort. It will not make any difference to the health of your eyes.

MYTH: Cataracts (lens opacities) are caused by overuse of the eyes.

TRUTH: Cataracts are usually related to age and many years of exposure to bright sunlight. They have nothing to do with how you use your eyes.

MYTH: Cataracts can be treated with eyedrops or medication.

TRUTH: Once a cataract has developed, there is no proven medication or eyedrop that can make it go away. The only clear-cut treatment for cataracts that require treatment (not all of them do) is surgery.

MYTH: Cataracts are hereditary. If your mom or dad had them, you are bound to also have them.

TRUTH: This one is mostly untrue. Although there are certain, uncommon types of cataracts that run in families, the most common type is related to age and has no predictable hereditary pattern.

MYTH: Contact lenses can stop myopia from progressing.

TRUTH: Because many adolescents begin wearing contact lenses around the time their myopia is stopping or slowing down anyway, there seems to be a cause-and-effect relationship. But studies have shown this is not true. There is a treatment program called orthokeratology, in which contact lenses are used to flatten cornea and thereby reduce nearsightedness; but the change is small, temporary, and in most cases does not reduce myopia enough to eliminate glasses altogether.


Excerpted from Taking Care of Your Eyes: A Collection of the Patient Education Handouts Used by America's Leading Eye Doctors. Triad Communications. Inc. $24.95. Available in local bookstores or call 800.526.525.6902or click here.


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