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Stop it or youll go blind! Or, how reading is ruining my eyesight

Reading in Bed FlickR commons Stop it or youll go blind! Or, how reading is ruining my eyesight

Image taken from FlickR commons

If anyone tells you that reading is a safe hobby, theyve clearly never met a voracious reader. Oh, how Ive suffered in the name of my bookish addiction.

My reading has resulted in a number of brushes with authority: I was five when I received my first library fine, the culprit being Helen Nicols Meg and Mog'books. I was given a stern talking to for attempting to borrow'The Exorcist in mid primary school. My local postie gives me strange looks at all of the parcels I receive, and I suspect that hes not far off reporting me to ASIO for suspicious activity.

But all of that pales in comparison with the bodily harm Ive endured throughout my twenty-something year reading habit. Paper cuts, wonky shoulders from lugging hardcovers around in my bag, and aching elbows from propping up my book in bed. I think youll agree that being a compulsive reader isnt the simple life of luxury many would imagine it to be.

However, of all of this, its my eyesight thats taken the biggest hit in the name of my love of books. In Grade 3 I began sitting at the front of class so that I could see what was written on the board. By Grade 6 I had taken to assuming that no one else could see the board, either, and became superb at dictation. At the end of that year I was blind enough that a trip to the optometrist was in order.

Andoh my goodness. I realised that impressionist paintings werent'an accurate representation of real life. That trees actually did have discrete leaves, and werent just blobs of colour. I realised that signs were meant to be able to be read from a distance greater than a metre or so. I realised that the fizzy dandelions I delighted in at night-time were actually street lamps that had until then been completely disfigured by my horrendous astigmatism.

Needless to say, extreme athlete that I am, I wasnt about to let some weak eye muscles get in the way of my literary sport. I kept on reading throughout all of this, shrugging of my worsening eyesight as a small price to pay for all of those hours of bookish delight.'(Although I must say moving from glasses to contacts during uni was an epiphany as I suddenly had peripheral vision at my disposal. O wonder! O delight!)

Ever year, my poor optometrist asked me whether I did a lot of close-work, and every year I told her that my time is spent either writing at my computer or with my nose in a book. There was a heartening moment a couple of years ago, however, when my sight started to stabilise, and it was possible that I might be a suitable candidate for laser eye surgery.

Enter Read in a Single Sitting, whose existence undeniably correlates with my worsening vision. Enter the wonders of ebooks. Enter my discovery that I can read while walking.

While reading print books undoubtedly set my eyesight well on to a path of insurmountable myopia, theres no arguing that my changing reading habits over the past couple of years have been responsible for my diminishing eyesight. Instead of reading only at home, I now venture out with a book in hand while commuting to work. I read on my phone while going for walks. I never have to be without a book, which although delightful for expanding my horizons as a reader, is not as delightful when you consider that its compressing my visual horizons.

Needless to say, my optometrist is aghast at how quickly my eyes have worsened over the past few years, and shes told me that Im no longer a candidate for eye surgery as a result.

Ive tried eye exercises, but theyre tough to keep up when youre wearing contact lenses; Ive tried audiobooks, but I have a tendency to zone out; Ive tried reading less, but we all know that Im a terrible recidivist when it comes to reading.

So is it worth it? Are the hours of immersion in my bookish worlds worth destroying my eyesight over? Are these physical side effects a suitable exchange for expanding my mind?'Well, lets just say that, short of an intervention, I doubt Im going to stop any time soon.


  1. Audiobooks. x

    • Stephanie /

      I know, I really need to get back into the audiobook habit. Librivox was my friend for a long while there!

  2. Hubby is an optical dispenser and disagrees with me when I say:

    I started having to wear glasses cuz I stressed my eyes out reading too much when I first came to Australia and came across libraries where I can borrow books for FREE.

    He said thats not the reason why as you cant stress your eyes out reading. He insists though on very good lighting etc.

    He also would not allow laser eye surgery as it is technically still a new thing which has not proven itself in long term side effects. :p

    In any case, Im just like you -reading whenever on whatever platform I have on hand during any spare second ;)

    • Stephanie /

      I always read in good light, but I really do think that my eyesight has got far worse since reading on my phone and while walkingsince I tend to do so with breaks. It seems logical that the muscles in the eyes can become weakened/overstrengthened through too much close workafter all, other muscles elsewhere can be strained or wasted depending on how theyre used.

      I do share his concerns about laser eye surgery. Im hoping that well have some huge advances in it soon! :)

      • The problem with reading on phones / ipads / tablets etc are the backing light they are supposedly NOT good for you. Thats probably why Im allowed the Kobo he he he to stop me reading on my phone! I still do but a lot less than I used to.

        • Stephanie /

          I really should make more use of my Kindle. It just feels so fragile and Im afraid to cart it around! My phone, on the other hand, is always there with me, and with the retina screen thing, its so much nicer to read on!

          Excuses, excuses. I really must do something about this!

  3. I am pretty sure my eye sight is deteriorating for similar reasons too! I havent been to the optometrist to confirm thisbut it is nearly time!

  4. Oh, aching elbows! I feel your pain.
    But my eyesight has deteriorated as well, I noticed it about two years ago when I found it really hard to read things on the board at school so I saw an optometrist and since Im a student and he probably sees this with other students, he automatically told me it was due to reading a lot and looking at computer screens. When I first put on my glasses I was amazed at how clear things were, and how terrible my eyes were. But Im pretty convinced that theyve worsened now, I wear my glasses all the time now!

    • Stephanie /

      Oh, Im sorry to hear about your eyesight, Zino! I hope it stabilises and doesnt get worse! Mine definitely worsened throughout later high school and uni, and has become far worse since starting this sight. Perhaps its something to do with my age as well (Im 27, and my optometrist said something about eyesight shifting around in your twenties).

      It certainly seems that most people wear glasses these days, although perhaps its more than eyesight issues are more often diagnosed, and theres not as much of a stigma associated with wearing glasses.

  5. I got 2 small icepacks that i can wrap around my elbows as I read. Once your mind is addicted to thinking and traveling to different worlds and times in books, its very hard to stop.or even cut back a bit.

    • Stephanie /

      Wow, thats dedication to your reading cause! I completely agree that its a hard habit to kick. (But then, why would we want to? :) )

  6. I heard it was a myth that reading ruins your eyesight, but maybe I just want to believe that its only a myth. My 82-year-old father has always been a huge reader and he still reads (with glasses) so Im hoping my genes will carry me and my eyesight through. (Its true he doesnt have the heavy computer use, so it might not work for me!)

    • Stephanie /

      I hope that its only a myth as well, but Im certainly doing something wrong, whatever it may be! Im glad to hear that your grandfathers eyes are so stronghopefully ours will hold out as well! :)

  7. I went and had an eye test a few months ago because I was born with a lazy eye and lately it has been drifting more often. Apparently my eyesight is still fine by he recommended 5 min breaks from either the screen or book every hour focusing on long distances and blinking a lot to refresh the eyes.
    Maybe that will help?

    • Stephanie /

      Ive heard the advice about refocusing by looking at distant objects a few timesperhaps I need to set myself a reminder so that I do so periodically. (Step away from the book!)

      Youre very lucky that you have good vision. Im definitely a bit envious! :)