Since I was a child, I was always told by my grandmother, “Don’t read in the dark, you’ll hurt your eyes.” The thing is, I find that hard to believe. If you look at the past, after all, when people read by the dim flicking light of a dancing candle flame, they were just fine throughout their life. How could that just abruptly change for no reason?
The British Medical Journal announced that the act of reading in dull light doesn’t actually cause any other alter that would damage or harm your eyes. The repetitive warning that parents and grandparents always drill into their kids’ heads was also ranked as one of the seven medical myths according to the Parker-Pope in 2007 (New York Times).
So, we know that it doesn’t hurt one’s eyes to read by a single lamp in a dark room; however, this does not mean that it does not cause strain. In fact, published in the British Medical Journal, it does.
To be able to read, your eyes preform several different tasks. Cells on the retina start to bring forth more chemicals that are sensitive to light that in turn, detect and morph said light into a signal, that is then sent to the brain. From there the muscles in the iris begin to “unwind” or calm down, resulting in the widening of the eye and pupil, thus becoming large, and permitting the eye itself to collect as much light as it can. Nerves found in the retina will have to adjust in dim or dull light. Your eye muscles will literally dictate your lenses’ shapes in order to make it so that you can continue reading, and in the end these muscles have to contract in order to support the focusing of your eyes on the words you’re trying to read.
Alright, got it? In English, the shapes of your lenses will squeeze tighter with the less light you have to read or write by. At the same time, your muscles won’t know whether they should relax to suck up as much light as possible, or if they should continue to contract to keep themselves focused.
Sure, performing tasks in dull light won’t actually damage your eyes, but strain will come, and may result, among a number of things: headaches, temporarily sensitive eyes, or itchy or aching eyeballs. If you have to read, write, or carry out such events that require your eyes (I would assume most things you do would require your eyes) in dull light, make sure to take breaks. According to Discovery Health, you can look away from your book or whatever it is life demands from you, by gazing at something else across the room occasionally, for fifteen to thirty seconds. This should help with strain.
Discovery Health (www.health.howstuffworks.com)
British Medical Journal (www.bmj.com)
New York Times: Parker Pope (www.well.blogs.nytimes.com)