Lighting in the home: a way to improve daily vision

How does poor lighting ‘hurt’ your eyes?

Photo Courtesy of BBC (Copyright: Thinkstock)

Photo Courtesy of BBC (Copyright: Thinkstock)

I often get asked by parents of my pediatric patients if it is “okay” for their child to read in dim lighting and will it harm their eyes? Well, let me try to answer this two part question with a real life situation that happened recently to me, and coincidentally to two of my patients.

I was reading the latest news on my new smart phone in the dark.  After ten minutes of reading, I noticed that I had, what appeared to be a black, circular spot directly in front of my vision. Of course I panicked.  I ran to the bathroom to inspect my eyes in the mirror. I couldn’t see anything unusual, though I still had that “blind spot” in front of my vision. I soon realized that I must have harmed my eyes by reading in the dark. You see, whenever we are in a dark environment our pupils open up to allow more light into the eye so we can see better. But a big pupil in the presence of a bright light source can put the eyes in a more vulnerable state of damage. With my widely dilated pupils, I was so focused on reading off of the bright screen of my smart phone that I literally burned or photostressed my eye. It took quite some time for my vision to return back to normal. As for my two patients, they were watching movies on their tablet while in the dark which caused a similar situation to occur.

No … it’s not “okay” to read in the dark. And yes … poor light settings can damage your eyes!

Lighting to consider

Having good lighting in the home is very important to seeing clearly, safely, and comfortably. The best suggested type of lighting is natural light or incandescent light. It provides just the right amount of illumination to view one’s surroundings. On the other hand, it’s best to avoid cool white or blue white fluorescent lights as they tend to provoke light sensitivity, glare and headaches. The best wall colors to have are pink, peach and warm beige. These colors tend to be easier on the eye and elicit less visual symptoms. Those that work on their computers for extended periods of time may find an ultraviolet or tinted overlay to the screen be helpful as well. For our senior folks, bright incandescent lighting is a must since many of them have some level of media opacities in the form of cataracts. As we know, cataracts limit the amount of light getting into the eye so the visual world appear dimmer to those harboring cataracts.

Remember, a way to improve your daily vision and for better visual health … draw back the window shades to let natural sunlight penetrate through, and turn on and up the incandescent lights in your home.

And P.S. avoid reading in the dark!

~ Judy Tong, O.D., F.A.A.O.
California Optometric Association
http://www.coavision.org
http://www.eyehelp.org

 

 

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Common myths about eyeglasses debunked!

Photo courtesy of Ben Andreas Harding on Flickr.

Photo courtesy of Ben Andreas Harding on Flickr.

As an optometrist, I often hear a variety of misconceptions about eyeglasses from my patients. Most concerns fall into a few broad categories with a few bizarre ones sprinkled in. I would like to take a brief moment to address some of the most common ones I hear:

  1. “Wearing glasses will make your eyes weaker.” This is probably the one myth I hear the most often and it is absolutely false. The biggest thing people forget to account for when they notice they are more reliant on their prescription glasses is that they are a bit older. As a person gets older, their ability to continue to see clearly without prescription glasses deteriorates. While this applies to everyone, it is most pronounced in my far-sighted patients in particular.
  2. “Not wearing your prescription glasses will make your eyes get worse.” This also is not true. Not wearing your glasses will not damage your eyes, but it can cause a significant amount of eyestrain. Extended viewing of computer monitors, smart phones, tablets or televisions without a proper prescription can lead to significant eyestrain and may cause you to discontinue viewing sooner than you planned.

    Photo Courtesy of TempusVolat on Flickr

    Photo Courtesy of TempusVolat on Flickr

  3. You can’t play sports with glasses on.” Not true! Glasses for sports can be made to protect your eyes and clear your vision at the same time. Protective lenses such as polycarbonate plastic can be put into sports goggles to allow a person to wear glasses when participating in sporting activities. Many patients prefer to wear contacts when they play sports, but it is a personal preference. Be sure to talk to your optometrist if you need specialty lenses for any of the activities you participate in.
  4. “Over the counter readers are just as good as prescription glasses.” This myth is not necessarily untrue. For a small group of patients, over the counter readers do work just as well as prescription reading glasses. The bad news is it’s an extremely small group of patients and those glasses work only when they are reading. Proper prescription glasses can correct each eye individually for the distance so both eyes are in focus and balanced. Once the eyes are balanced and working together, your optometrist can determine the proper power you need for your computer monitor or for reading materials. For the overwhelming majority of patients, there is a difference between the prescriptions between their eyes or some astigmatism in their correction that you cannot find in over the counter glasses.

I hope these answers help open your eyes to how prescription glasses can help you see clearly.

~Ranjeet S. Bajwa, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association
http://www.coavision.org

The vision problem affecting 1 in 5 school children

Chronic underfunding, overcrowded classrooms, run down schools, and shortage of textbooks and resources are some of the school issues that grab the headlines.

Yet, there’s a problem in our schools that affects an estimated 15-20% of our children and receives virtually no publicity. It’s a problem that is as acute in affluent communities as in the inner city.

The problem is our children’s vision. I’m saddened to report that there are millions of school-aged children in the U.S. who have vision problems that are interfering with their ability to learn. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them, their parents, and their teachers are unaware of the problem.

In too many cases, I have seen these undiagnosed vision problems create a cycle of despair. A child is labeled as a “slow learner,” receives special attention, yet shows little progress if the underlying vision problems are not treated.

Courtesy of MDGovpics on Flickr

Courtesy of MDGovpics on Flickr

In other less severe cases, I have seen problems linger as life-long “nuisances”- hindering the productivity and job satisfaction of successful executives, attorneys, actors, and other professionals.

How is it that so many of these problems can go undetected? There are three main reasons:

  1. Inadequate vision testing – The typical vision test given at schools (usually administered by the school nurse), and general eye doctors’ offices (that do not specialize in developmental vision) primarily only evaluate distance vision and eye health. Near vision tests, which determine if a child can read a book up-close, are often overlooked. More complex vision skills that are necessary to read effectively, such as eye tracking and teaming, are very rarely tested.
  2. Poor vision skills are “silent” ailments – A child cannot tell if he is seeing clearly because he cannot objectively compare his vision skills with others. By the same token, a parent or teacher cannot assess how a child is seeing because they cannot see through the child’s eyes.

No matter how poor a student’s vision skills, it is all that he or she has known. I have seen extreme cases where a child with double vision has never reported this to her parents because she thought everyone saw like this. Consequently, it is especially important that parents and teachers are aware of the behavioral signs that indicate a possible vision problem.

Signs of vision problems include:

  • School or sports performance below potential
  • Resistance to school work and homework
  • Slow reader or test taker
  • Clumsy catching a ball
  • Words go in and out of focus
  • Rubs eyes while reading
  • Covers an eye while reading
  • Uses finger to keep place reading after the 2nd grade
  • Moves reading material closer or further away to see it better
  • Short attention span on visual activities
  • Poor penmanship, doesn’t stay on the line
  1. Lack of public awareness-
    • The fact that proper vision is the learned mastery of variety of skills is not widely understood. Most people assume that visual skills naturally develop, when in fact, for approximately 20% of people these skills do not develop fully by themselves.
    • Fortunately, most people with these vision problems can be helped through a program of Vision training. A Vision training (VT) program builds and enhances deficient visual motor and perceptual skills step by step.

I am hoping that we will reach a time when poor vision skills are eliminated as a reason why many of our children are not performing to their potential in school and sports. This begins with one child at a time, and one developmental vision exam  at a time.

~Elise Brisco, OD

California Optometric Association

http://www.coavision.org

Getting children ready to go back to school

Summer seems to have just started, but the new school year is only a month away. Many of us get ready for this time by making sure our kids have the right clothes, books and school supplies to start the year off right, but we forget to make sure that our kid’s eyes are working well so that learning in school is easy, comfortable, and fun!

The back to school season is a great time to schedule your child’s eye health and vision exam. Optometrists are able to make sure that not only is your child seeing as clear  as possible, but that all of their other visual skills are working properly to handle the demands of the new school year.

"Reading is Fun" Photo Courtesy of John-Morgan on Flickr

“Reading is Fun” Photo Courtesy of John-Morgan on Flickr

The following are some of the important visual skills necessary for learning in the classroom:

  • Visual acuity — The ability to see clearly at any distance. Seeing 20/20 is only one portion of all of the visual skills necessary for classroom success, but sometimes the only area that is assessed by typical “vision screenings.”
  • Eye Tracking — The ability to follow with the eyes a slow moving object such as the teacher moving around the front of the classroom and the ability for the eyes to follow along a line of print while reading without skipping or re-reading
  • Focusing Flexibility- the eyes ability to maintain focus on objects in the distance and at near as well as shift focus quickly from point to point.
  • Eye teaming — The skill needed to aim both eyes together at the same time.  This is a needed skill for lining the eyes up while reading across of page of print and also to have the very high level of depth perception needed for sports.
  • Eye-hand coordination — The skill needed to coordinate the visual system and the motor system when writing, copying, or playing sports.
  • Visual perception — The skill needed to sort, understand and remember information that is coming into the visual system.

Making sure all of these areas are working at the highest level will help ensure that your child has a successful school year.

~By Lisa Weiss, OD, FAAO

Vision therapy to improve academic & athletic performance

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Vision therapy (VT) is a high effective type of physical and perceptual therapy that works on improving eye muscle control and coordination, eye-hand and eye-body coordination, as well as visual processing/understanding and visual cognitive skills.

Seeing takes place in the brain instead of the eyes. The eyes are the instruments which transmit visual images to the brain. The brain then processes and integrates visual information with other systems such as the vestibular system to affect balance and spatial localization, as well as affecting understanding of what is seen or read. VT uses neuroplasticity to improve visual functioning and the activities that require vision.

When most people think of good vision, they think of seeing clearly– that is, having 20/20 vision. While seeing clearly is important, it is only one aspect of vision.

Having good vision involves much more than seeing 20/20. Being a good reader, a good driver, or a good athlete requires mastering a complex set of vision skills, such as eye tracking, eye teaming, visual perception and visual memory. Unfortunately, many children and adults have problems with these types of visual skills. Although they may see 20/20, they do not have good vision. They may have trouble reading or working on a computer. They may have difficulty driving or excelling in sports.

It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of people may suffer from these types of problems. Please click here to see if you may have a treatable vision problem that is interfering with your work, reading or sports performance.

Vision therapy can treat many problems including:

  • Strabismus
  • Amblyopia
  • Visually-related learning problems
  • Visual Impairment after Brain Injury (such as stroke, craniotomy)
  • Double vision
  • Sports Vision – to enhance athletic performance through faster and more accurate visual motor skills
  • Computer Vision Syndrome (headaches, eyestrain, decreased productivity)

Here are the most frequently asked questions about VT:

1. How do I know that I may need VT?

A: There are many symptoms that indicate a need for VT. Some of the more common symptoms are: eyestrain associated with reading or computer use, not performing to potential at school or work, poor eye-hand coordination with sports or handwriting, double vision, print that appears to “move” on the page, and losing your place while reading.

Special tests will determine if your specific vision problems can be treated with VT.

If you have two or more of the following symptoms, you can benefit from VT. It takes energy to compensate for a vision problem, which results in discomfort and loss of productivity. Improving your visual skills can improve your academic, athletic and executive performance.

  • My eyes feel tired or uncomfortable while reading
  • Headaches while reading or studying
  • Reading or computer use makes me sleepy
  • I, or my child, is not performing to my potential in school or work
  • I have difficulty remembering what I have read
  • Frequent loss of concentration while reading
  • Words move, jump, or appear to “swim”
  • Double vision
  • I am a slow reader
  • “Pulling” sensation around eyes while reading
  • Words blur, or go in and out of focus
  • I often lose my place, or jump over letters & words
  • I often re-read the same line over and over
  • I do not like to read for pleasure
  • I have a short attention span while reading compared to other activities
  • I have poor eye-hand coordination while playing sports
  • I have poor depth perception
  • I learn better visually than verbally
  •  I get dizzy reading in the car
  • I have difficulty judging distances such as parallel parking or stopping a car
  • I have difficulty making visual judgments such as the depth of stairs, pouring coffee into a cup

2. What is involved with vision therapy?

A: A vision therapy program incorporates many different exercises that train deficient visual skills. Learning visual skills is like learning to play the piano, or a new sport. VT exercises are performed in our office under the supervision of a vision therapist. We also prescribe home therapy to reinforce and accelerate the development of newly learned skills.

The length of the VT program depends on the nature and severity of your vision problem.

3. What results can I expect?

A: You can expect your vision to improve significantly or completely if you stick to the program as prescribed by the doctor. The amount of your improvement depends on the type of vision problem(s) you have, how well you follow doctor’s orders and how regularly you practice your vision exercises.

4. Will my insurance cover vision therapy?

A: Few insurance plans cover VT, but it depends on your particular insurance coverage. The California Optometric Association has several doctors who specialize in vision therapy who would be happy to help you determine if you have any allowance for vision therapy.

5. What kind of vision problems can be treated with vision therapy?

VT can treat a variety of vision problems including:

  • Strabismus (eye turn)
  • Amblyopia (lazy eye)
  • Oculomotor dysfunction
  • Focusing problems
  • Double vision
  • Convergence insufficiency or excess

Visually-related learning problems

Visual motor or visual perceptual problems can interfere with the input and processing of visual information. This decreases a student’s performance on reading and writing tasks, which are highly dependent on visual skills (see symptom checklist below).

Visual motor problems can occur in these skills: tracking, eye teaming, or focusing.

Visual perceptual delays can occur in: visual-motor integration, visual memory or sequential memory, visual discrimination, visual figure ground, visual form constancy, or speed of visual processing.

Sports performance enhancement therapy

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Photo courtesy of DeusXFlorida on Flickr.com

VT can be used to improve athletic performance through increasing visual accuracy, speed of visual reaction time, depth perception, tracking speed (to follow a target quickly), increasing the span of recognition, and improving eye-hand and eye-body coordination.

Enhancing Executive Performance

VT can be used to improve work productivity by increasing visual stamina, decreasing symptoms such as eyestrain or headaches associated with desk or computer work, improving speed of scanning and reading.

Visual Rehabilitation after Brain Injury

80 percent of the brain is related to visual function; therefore, after an injury to the brain (such as stroke, craniotomy, aneurysm or trauma) visual skills and activities dependent on visual skills (such as walking and driving) are often impaired. VT can be used to train the non-damaged part of the brain to do what the damaged part used to do.

Symptoms of brain injury-related visual impairment include double vision, poor judgment of distance while driving or reaching for objects, hemianopsia or loss of side vision, frequent loss of place while reading, skipping words, sensitivity to light, vertigo, fluctuating vision, bumping into objects, decreased depth perception, leaning to one side, and eyestrain.

Please refer to the section on Brain Injuries for more information.

6. Can Adults benefit from VT?

A: Vision therapy benefits adults. In fact, Dr. Brisco went through VT as an adult, and it has tremendously contributed to her improved reading speed and comprehension, as well as her tennis game!

Vision problems that were not corrected during childhood often persist through adulthood, thus interfering with efficiency and productivity on visual tasks. The majority of vision problems are treatable at any age, but it is better to catch problems early to maximize your potential during your academic and executive career.

~By Elise Brisco, OD, FCOVD, FAAO