“Don’t read in the dark.” They said. “It will damage your eyes.” They said.
These are words frequently said by our parents as we snuck under our duvets with a torch because we were physically unable to tear ourselves away from a riveting novel. Studies seem to share a contradicting view on this matter.
Dim light might make it difficult for the eyes to focus, which can cause short-term eye fatigue, says Richard Gans, an ophthalmologist with the Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute. "But there is no scientific evidence that reading in the dark does any long-term harm to your eyes," comments Gans.
Intricate visual work, such as reading in insufficient light, can also lead to short-term drying of eyes as you tend to blink less often. Again, this is mostly just uncomfortable, but it doesn’t damage the structure or function of the eyes. Over-the-counter lubricating drops, if dry eyes are a problem are a simple solution to this problem.
Short-sightedness or myopia means that a person can easily see things that are close up, but objects in the distance such as a street number or the menu board in a restaurant look out of focus. Wearing glasses or contact lenses solves the problem, but it doesn’t answer the question of why some people develop short-sightedness in childhood while others don’t.
Don’t underestimate the power of our eyes, as they are in fact designed to adjust to different light levels. If you find yourself in a situation where you are required to read in the dim your pupils will automatically dilate in order to take in more light through the eyes lens onto your retinas. Cells in your retina, called cones, use this light to provide information to the brain about what you can see. Just think about when you initially wake up in the morning for instance, this process allows you to become gradually accustomed to what initially feels like pitch-black darkness. If you switch a light on, it feels unbearably bright until your pupils have had time to readjust once more.
To date there has been more research and debate around the effects of frequently reading or watching things up close, also known as ‘close work’, rather than the effects of reading in poor light.
So to answer the question, the studies are inconclusive. The best thing to do is to have regular eye tests. It’s the only way to keep track of your eye status! Pop in to Vision Works near you to find out more information around the general wellbeing of your eyes.