Know your medical facts from myths? There are a lot of old wives' tales out there. But where do they come from and what is the truth? This week, we ask Dr Max whether reading in dim light really damages your eyes.

What's the truth?

Nearly every parent has, at one time or another, cited this myth when scolding their children for reading under the covers with only a torch. But it's not true.

There's not a shred of evidence that doing any activity, including reading, in poor light damages the eyes or the eyesight.

Anecdotal reports of people throughout history studying by candlelight and going blind as a result are wrong. Those people may well have lost their eyesight but it was nothing to do with working in poor light.

Medical myths: Reading in low light
Illustration by David Humphries

 

Where did the myth come from?

Bad lighting can cause a sensation of having difficulty focusing and it's thought that this is the source of the myth—people assumed, wrongly, that this meant they must be damaging their eyes in some way.

Reading in poor light also makes people blink less, which can lead to the eyes becoming dry and uncomfortable—again adding tothe belief that they've been damaged. There is, however, no evidence that such eye strain doesany permanent harm or changes the eye in any way.

 

So there's nothing to worry about?

While good light will improve your ability to see clearly, it's not necessary for eye health.

So to all parents—sorry, but you're going to have to find another excuse to tell your children to turn off the torch and go to sleep.

 

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