Growing up, your parents might have told you these things to get you to stop messing around, switch the TV off, and eat all the healthy stuff on your plate at dinnertime. But how true are these eyesight ‘facts’? And what about all the other common eye myths out there?
It’s time to separate fact from fiction!
1. Reading in dim light will ruin your eyesight
Your parents might have told you off when they found you reading under the bed covers at a young age, scaring you to sleep with warnings of the damage you were doing to your eyesight. But were they right?
The answer is yes and no. Your eyes are actually well designed to adjust to different levels of light. If you’re reading in dim light, your pupils will become bigger temporarily to take in more light to your retinas. Special cells called rods and cones will then use this light to send information to your brain about what you’re looking at – in this case, your book or magazine. Some people may find that this strains their eyes after a while, but others won’t have a problem.
In addition to eye fatigue, doing challenging visual activities, such as reading in insufficient light, can also lead to the short-term drying of eyes because you blink less often. This may be uncomfortable but it doesn’t damage the structure or function of the eyes. You can treat this condition using lubricating eye drops.
Few studies have delved deep into the long-term effects of reading in dim light, but some have focused on the effects of regularly staring at things up close. The results suggest this ‘close work’ can speed up the onset of short-sightedness in children. So basically, if you’re reading in dim light and holding the book close to your face a lot, you could be damaging your eyesight. But if you’re only doing it now and again, you’re probably going to be fine!
2. Watching TV will give you square eyes
True or false? False
You’ve probably heard people saying that watching too much TV will give you square eyes. This is false.
Watching a lot of TV may make your eyes feel tired or strained, but after a good night’s rest, you’ll likely be back to normal.
That’s not to say that watching a lot of TV is good for your health – it’s a sedentary activity, after all. If you’re spending hours in front of the TV every day, it could be contributing to other health problems indirectly, eg. obesity. In addition, if you sit too near to the TV screen, it will be considered ‘near work’. Increased near work increases the risk of myopia in children.
So, don’t sit and stare at your screen all day, every day!
3. Carrots are good for your eyesight
Carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a pigment abundant in fruits and vegetables, that your body converts to vitamin A. And it’s true that vitamin A is essential for good eye health.
But if you’re already getting the vitamin A your body needs (quite likely if you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet), eating extra carrots won’t make your bad vision better. In fact, this will only make a difference if you have a vitamin A deficiency caused by something like poor diet, malabsorption (a condition where you have a problem absorbing vitamins) or alcoholism and liver problems, in which case your doctor will be able to prescribe medications and advise lifestyle changes to improve your health and eyesight.
You can still eat lots of carrots though – they’re very good for you! Vitamin A can also be found in milk, cheese, egg yolks and liver.
4. If you cross your eyes, they’ll stay like that
True or false? False
This one’s an old saying, but it’s definitely false! If you’re just messing around and pulling silly faces, you won’t be doing any damage to your eyesight.
However, if you or your child has an eye that regularly drifts inwards, outwards, upwards or downwards, visit your doctor for an eye exam. This could be a sign of strabismus (a condition where both eyes do not always look at the same place at the same time). Your doctor may recommend prescription eyewear, eye therapy or surgery to treat this.
5. Smartphones are bad for your eyesight
While smartphones are still a relatively new invention, preliminary medical research shows they could be doing some very real damage to our eyes. This is because they give off high-energy waves of blue light. The studies suggest this is contributing to eye strain and discomfort, and in the long-term, may trigger age-related conditions prematurely. One such condition is macular degeneration, which can lead to blurry vision or blindness.
So, what can you do to minimise the impact of blue light on your eyes? Spend less time on your phone, and switch your phone to ‘night mode’ (which filters out blue light) when possible.
6. Your vision will deteriorate faster if you don’t wear your glasses, or if you wear glasses of the wrong prescription
True or false? A bit of both
Yes, you will struggle to focus on things properly if you don’t wear your glasses, or if your glasses aren’t the right prescription for you. But, while this might make your eyes feel strained and sore, it’s unlikely to cause you long-term damage if you are an adult. The main side effects, like headaches, are usually temporary.
In children, if the wrong prescription is worn, their eyes will not be stimulated to develop to their full potential, and may develop into lazy eye.
Your eyesight will change over time. If you find you regularly get strained or tired eyes, even while wearing your glasses, schedule another eye test to check if you need a new prescription.
7. Only older people are at risk of glaucoma or cataracts
Glaucoma (often the result of pressure on your optic nerve) and cataracts (clouding of the lens) are definitely conditions that are more common in older age, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop them earlier in life. In fact, some babies are born with glaucoma or cataracts. Both of these conditions can lead to blindness, so it’s important to be aware of them.
Symptoms of glaucoma include hazy or blurred vision, seeing rainbow-coloured lights and experiencing severe eye pain or sudden light loss. Symptoms of cataracts include clouded vision, sensitivity to light and seeing ‘halos’ around lights.
Sometimes, you might not realise there is a serious problem until it’s too late. Whatever your age, it’s essential to go for regular eye exams to check for hidden eye diseases and sight problems.
8. Children will outgrow a lazy eye without intervention
True or false? False
You should always seek treatment if your child has a lazy eye (amblyopia). It usually stems from an irregularity between the eyes, with one eye having better focus than the other.
If amblyopia isn’t treated early, your child’s brain may learn to ignore the images it receives from the unfocused (blurry) eye. This could eventually damage their eyesight permanently. All children should go and get tested before they reach school age to make sure both eyes can see equally well and that nothing is blocking light from coming into the eyes.
9. You can improve your eyesight naturally
Natural vision correction is the belief that you can fix your eyesight without relying on glasses, contact lenses or laser eye surgery. Techniques include eye massages and eye exercises such as rolling your eyes.
Unfortunately, there’s no evidence to suggest that natural vision correction works. Vision therapy (specifically, convergence exercises) may help in a selected group of patients with convergence insufficiency (when your eyes struggle to focus on a moving object).
If you’ve any concerns about your eyesight, don’t be afraid to speak to a specialist!
Article reviewed by Dr Leo Seo Wei, ophthalmologist at Mount Elizabeth Hospital
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