Vision and Eye News
How Does Alcohol Really Affect Your Vision?
January 2014 Researchers in Australia have found that drinking the legal limit of alcohol greatly affects the ability to adjust vision for brightness and contrast by 30 percent.
The study, conducted at Western University's Faculty of Social Science, used the Hermann Grid to understand how alcohol affects the perception of contrast. The Hermann Grid is a grid of black squares on a white background. Ghost-like dark spots appear at the intersections of the grid but are not actually there. According to researchers, it's the way our visual system processes contrast or brightness differences that creates this illusion.
The researchers were able to show that the apparent contrast of the illusory spots in the grid is reduced by 30 percent at a blood alcohol level around the legal driving limit. This means that making distinctions between different objects based on lightness and darkness becomes more difficult when we drink alcohol.
Gene Therapy Holds Promise for Treating Eye Disease
January 2014 People suffering from a rare degenerative eye disease might finally have hopes for improved vision though gene therapy.
Choroideremia is caused by defects in a single gene on the X chromosome that leads to blindness and affects one in 50,000 people, mainly boys. Many start losing night vision by age 10 and become legally blind in their 40s. Because of the defective gene, light-sensitive cells in the retina slowly stop working and then die.
In an early-stage clinical trial, University of Oxford researchers used a deactivated virus to safely transport billions of healthy, lab-made versions of the gene into the retina. That appeared to restore the function of light-sensitive cells.
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The trial began with six patients. Two still had excellent visual acuity, which was measured by reading lines of letters on a sight chart. Two other patients had good acuity, and two had reduced acuity. Six months after the operation, the two patients with reduced acuity showed improved vision, being able to read two and four more lines on the sight chart. The others could see better in dim light. The gains were sustained over several months of follow-up.
The experiment marks one of the first times that gene therapy has targeted the main light-sensing cells in the retina. And it offers a possible blueprint for treating far more common causes of blindness that affect the same cells, such as retinitis pigmentosa and age-related macular degeneration.
Visualization Can Affect Pupil Size
December 2013 Simply imagining scenes such as a sunny day or a night sky can cause your pupils to change size, a new study finds.
Pupils automatically dilate (get bigger) or contract (get smaller) in response to the amount of light entering the eye. The study, conducted by the University of Oslo in Norway, shows that visualizing dark or bright scenes affects people's pupils as if they were actually seeing the images.
In one experiment, participants looked at a screen with triangles of different levels of brightness. When later asked to imagine those triangles, the participants' pupils varied in size according to each triangle's brightness. When they imagined brighter triangles, their pupils were smaller, and when they imagined darker triangles, their pupils were larger.
Pupils also changed diameter when study participants imagined a sunny sky, a dark room, or a face in the sun versus a face in the shade, according to the study published online in the journal Psychological Science. The research may potentially enable scientists to probe the mental experiences of animals, babies and even people with severe neurological disorders, the study authors suggested.
Simple Blood or Urine Test May Identify Retinitis Pigmentosa
October 2013 Researchers at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute have discovered a key marker in blood and urine that can identify people who carry genetic mutations in a gene responsible for retinitis pigmentosa, a blinding disease that affects about one in 4,000 people in the United States.
The first mutation in this gene, named DHDDS, was identified in 2011 by scientists at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Mutations in this gene are more common in persons of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage than in the general population.
Retinitis pigmentosa is a group of inherited eye diseases that cause progressive vision loss and blindness due to degeneration of the retina, the layer of light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.
Take the #EyePledge in Honor of World Sight Day and You Can Generate Donations to an Eye Charity!
October 2013 World Sight Day is October 10, and it's a great opportunity for you to make an appointment for an eye exam.
Vistakon, a division of Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, is asking everyone to take an "eye selfie" photo and post it online in one of two ways:
- Either post it through the "Donate a Photo" app by Johnson & Johnson with #EyePledge;
- Or share it on social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), using #EyePledge.
When you post your photo, you should also promise to get your eyes tested.
If you use the "Donate a Photo" app to upload your photo on behalf of the charity organization Sight for Kids, Johnson & Johnson will donate $1 (up to $30,000) to the charity. Sight for Kids has provided free vision screenings to more than 17 million children in Asia Pacific since 2002.
The "Donate a Photo" app is available from the App Store and Google Play. You can post up to one photo per day via the app.
Will Your Doctor Be Using a Smart Phone App to Diagnose Eye Disease?
September 2013 Researchers from Massachusetts Eye and Ear have found an alternative way for eye doctors to capture high-resolution images of the retina: a smart phone app.
Commercial fundus (retinal) cameras can be costly for eye care practices, especially those in developing countries, and the cameras' large size limits their portability.
By combining the technologies of Apple's iPhone 4 or 5, a smart phone video camera app called Filmic Pro and a 20 diopter lens, the researchers captured excellent retinal images at a significantly lower cost with these mobile devices.
"This technique has been extremely helpful for us in the emergency department setting, in-patient consultations and during examinations under anesthesia, as it provides a cheaper and portable option for high-quality fundus-image acquisition," said senior author Shizuo Mukai, MD, Mass. Eye and Ear retina specialist and Harvard Medical School associate professor of ophthalmology.
The research team expects the quality of these images to continue to improve as smart phone technology advances. They predict that more eye doctors will use smart phone technology as an easy, inexpensive way to document eye diseases.
A full report of this study was published online this month in Journal of Ophthalmology.
Electrical Stimulation of Brain Helps Adults With Amblyopia
July 2013 A growing body of evidence reveals that the human brain has greater neuroplasticity than previously thought when it comes to the treatment of amblyopia.
Researchers in China tested the hypothesis that transcranial direct-current stimulation of the visual cortex would enhance the effects of dichoptic videogame-based treatment. (In a dichoptic video display, each eye is presented a separate and independent array of objects. Vision therapy of this type has been shown to aid in amblyopia treatment.)
Sixteen young adults with amblyopia (mean age 22.1 years) participated in the study. Compared with videogame therapy alone, the combined treatment led to greater improvements in binocular functioning.
According to the study authors, the electrical brain stimulation in the combined treatments appears to improve effectiveness by reducing the inhibition of input from the amblyopic eye to the visual cortex by cortical interneurons. They recommended additional studies be performed to evaluate this new approach for adults with amblyopia.
The study report appeared this month in Neurotherapeutics.
New Eye Movement Test Could Reduce Need for Costly Stroke Testing
April 2013 Often people who have severe dizziness are tested for stroke. In our healthcare system, stroke work-ups are very expensive, so the ability to rule out stroke by other means could save time and money.
Measuring eye movements with a special goggle, to determine whether dizziness is due to stroke.
That's why researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine tested an electronic device that measures eye movements in people with dizziness or vertigo, to see if it could determine whether the symptoms are due to stroke or a more benign condition.
Three eye movement tests are used to check the balance system in possible stroke victims. One, called the horizontal head impulse test, is the best stroke predictor, so the researchers performed it with a video-oculography machine to detect very small eye movements.
Patients wore a special goggle that contained a webcam and an accelerometer in the frame. A laptop was connected to the webcam, software determined eye position based on the webcam input and the accelerometer measured how fast the patient's head moved.
Six of the 12 patients in the study were diagnosed with stroke, while the other six had benign conditions. All the diagnoses were confirmed later with MRI.
A report of the study appeared in the April issue of the journal Stroke.
Alcohol Free Weekend April 5-7: Do It for Your Eyes
April 2013 Did you know that drinking too much alcohol can affect your eyes? It can cause eye dryness, and it is a suspected cause of eyelid twitching.
Alcohol increases your risk for cataract development. And it can trigger short-term double vision and the inflammation that causes ocular rosacea.
April is Alcohol Awareness Month and a good time to take a look at how alcohol may be affecting your eyes and your overall health.
On April 5-7 the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence is inviting everyone to participate in Alcohol Free Weekend three days of abstinence that may help you reduce your consumption of alcohol and improve your health.
Give it a try!
Visual Evaluation Needed After Any Traumatic Brain Injury, Says Study
February 2013 Researchers have found that as many as 65 percent of people who sustain traumatic brain injury (TBI) develop associated vision problems. The vision problems occurred whether the trauma was blast-related, such as TBI sustained by Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans from explosions in combat, or non-blast-related, such as TBI sustained by civilians in auto accidents, falls or other trauma.
TBI-related vision problems included light sensitivity, eye movement dysfunction, focusing problems and eye teaming problems. Related symptoms included eye strain and difficulty reading.
What's striking is that despite these vision problems, most of the patients had normal visual acuity. The researchers suggested that anyone with TBI should have a comprehensive vision examination, regardless of the cause or severity of their injury.
The study report appeared in the February issue of Optometry & Vision Science.
Did Scarlet Fever Cause Mary Ingalls' Blindness?
February 2013 Probably not, says a study that appeared in the February issue of Pediatrics.
Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote of her sister Mary's vision loss in the Little House on the Prairie series of books about her childhood. She wrote that it had resulted from a bout of scarlet fever.
Using newspaper reports, school registries and Wilder's memories, the researchers concluded that Mary's blindness was likely caused by viral meningoencephalitis. Her symptoms, including facial nerve inflammation that caused temporary paralysis of the side of her face, strongly suggest meningoencephalitis.
The disesase also could have caused inflammation of the optic nerve, which would lead to vision loss.
The researchers speculated that the editors of Wilder's books may have decided to name scarlet fever as the cause, since most people were familiar with the disease and knew how deadly it could be to children.
Light Exposure During Pregnancy Important to
Good Infant Vision Development
January 2013 Did you know that normal eye development requires light to reach an infant even while in the womb?
This finding reported in this month's Nature is based on studies of fetal mice. The researchers discovered that a light-response pathway controls the number of neurons in the retina.
In mice, this pathway must be activated during late gestation, about 16 days into the pregnancy.
The light-response pathway keeps the blood vessels forming in the retina from becoming too numerous and causing potentially blinding retinopathy of prematurity.
Are People With Brown Eyes More Trustworthy?
January 2013 In a study of 238 university students in Prague, participants were asked to rate photos of 40 female and 40 male students for perceived trustworthiness. The photos of brown-eyed people received higher ratings than those of blue-eyed people.
Who looks more trustworthy to you?
But eye color was probably not the determining factor, concluded the researchers. Apparently, there is a correlation between brown eye color and certain face shapes.
When the researchers showed the students photos with brown eyes recolored to blue and vice-versa, they found that it was the face shapes not the eye colors that were influencing their answers, at least when it came to the male photos.
In the photos, the brown-eyed males had a bigger nose and mouth, a broader chin and more prominent eyebrows positioned closer to each other, compared with the blue-eyed males. These features seemed to convey more trustworthiness to the participants.
In the female photos, the correlation between trustworthiness and face shape was not statistically significant, though the researchers said the trend "was in the same direction."
And overall, there was a negative correlation between perceived dominance and trustworthiness.
For more information, read the interesting report of the study in this month's issue of the Public Library of Science online journal, PLOS ONE.
Your Eyes Can Get Sunburnt, Too!
December 2012 TV personality and CNN newsman Anderson Cooper was "blind for 36 hours" after his eyes were sunburned on a recent trip to Portugal.
Cooper spent two hours outside on a boat without sunglasses and consequently burned his corneas.
"I wake up in the middle of the night and it feels like my eyes are on fire... Anyway, it turns out I have sunburned my eyeballs," he said on his talk show Anderson Live. "I had no idea you could do this."
The condition is called photokeratitis, commonly known as "snow blindness" among skiers, and can cause temporary vision loss. It occurs when UV light, typically when reflected off bright surfaces such as water, sand or snow, burns the cornea.
The effects of photokeratitis are temporary and typically subside after a couple of days of using numbing and antibiotic eye drops. However, like regular sunburn, burning your cornea causes cumulative damage and increases your risk for developing cataracts and macular degeneration.
To protect your eyes from the sun's rays (at any time of year), always wear sunglasses or ski goggles that block 100 percent of UV rays.
Augmented Reality Glasses Wars on the Horizon?
December 2012 Microsoft may be working on augmented reality glasses, according to an application filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Unlike the minimalist design of the Google Glass (to be available to the public in 2014), Microsoft's version may look more like normal eyewear, if the drawings included in the patent application are any indication. The processing unit would be worn on the wrist, presumably to reduce weight and bulk in the eyewear itself.
It will be interesting to compare the two devices when they are launched.
But for now it appears that Google is emphasizing constant Internet access with a smartphone type of approach, while Microsoft may be focusing on providing an additional layer of information for live events such as ball games and performances as you observe them.
In case you were wondering, Apple has a patent for a head-mounted device, too. Let the competition begin!
A Bright Idea for Saving Energy Costs: Light Sources That Are More Efficient for the Human Visual System
November 2012 As you have probably noticed, light bulbs and most other light-emitting devices flicker.
When the flicker rate is slow, the flicker is noticeable and makes viewing uncomfortable, as explained in our computer vision syndrome articles. When the flicker rate is fast, then viewing is easier on the eyes.
Vision researchers at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix have discovered a flicker rate "sweet spot" that optimizes the perceived brightness of light by the human visual system without increasing the power required to generate the light.
The researchers concluded that if we optimized every light-emitting device (light bulbs, computer screens, TVs, tablets, cell phones, etc.) to work at peak efficiency for the human visual system, we could save billions of dollars in electricity.
A report of the study appeared in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The World Would Save $202 Billion a Year, if Vision Care Were Provided to Those Who Need it
October 2012 In 2010, about 703 million people in the world could not see well because they didn't have access to eye exams and eyeglasses.
This is according to a report that calculates the savings achieved by correcting their vision would be $202 billion each year, while the cost of this effort would be a one-time investment of just $28 billion.
The money would be spent on training 47,000 eye care providers and 18,000 optical dispensers, building facilities, and paying operating costs of providing vision care for five years.
"Spending US$28 billion to train eye care personnel, establish infrastructure and provide spectacles, is a drop in the ocean compared with the annual cost to the global economy," says co-author of the study Professor Brien Holden, CEO of the Brien Holden Vision Institute. "By restoring people's vision, we're generating massive economic benefits for society it's as simple as that."
The $202 billion is an estimate of lost productivity due to the inability of vision-deprived people to learn and to work. It takes into account only the 158 million cases of distance vision problems (myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism). If the 544 million people who have near vision problems due to presbyopia, etc., were also helped, even more savings could be achieved.
The Brien Holden Vision Institute in Australia and South Africa and Johns Hopkins University in the United States researched and calculated the data. Please click here for a copy of the free study report, which appeared in the October edition of the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.
Mystery Eyeball of the Sea Identified
October 2012 You may have heard about the softball-sized blue eye that washed ashore this month in Pompano Beach, Fla.
After speculation that it had come from a giant squid, scientists and fishermen now say it's likely that of a large swordfish or marlin, though final testing has not been completed.
It is unusual to find fish eyes floating in the water. This one may have been removed from the swordfish by a fisherman and drifted to shore before it could become a meal for other sea creatures.
Please click here for closeup photos. (Images: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)
Watch Out for Eye Cosmetics That Contain Lead
September 2012 The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is cautioning people not to use eye cosmetics with lead in them, after an infant of Nigerian descent was diagnosed with lead poisoning in Boston, Massachusetts.
Little girl with kohl on her eyelids. (Image:
New York City Health Department)
An investigation concluded that the baby's only lead exposure was from the application of a dark powder called tiro to his eyelids three to four times a week.
In Nigeria, tiro is used as a cosmetic and a medicine. It is popularly believed to aid in visual development, relieve eye strain, ward off the evil eye and more.
The tiro contained 82.6 percent lead, though the amount can vary among these types of cosmetics. Kohl, surma, kajal, tozali and kwalli are similar examples, and they are used in many cultures in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. They don't always contain lead, but other toxic ingredients, such as antimony, are often found in them. Unfortunately they are often poorly labeled, so their actual formulations are unknown to users.
According to the CDC, contact with any amount of lead is dangerous, with damage to the brain, kidneys and bone marrow among the many consequences. High exposures can even lead to convulsions, coma and death.
The boy had 13 micrograms per deciliter of lead in his blood. The CDC's official level of concern is 5 micrograms per deciliter.
A report of the incident appeared in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in early August. The author urged medical professionals to consider these cosmetics as a possible cause when lead exposure cases arise and noted that the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control plans an awareness campaign to educate the public about tiro and safer alternatives.
Eye-Tracker Lets You Control Your Computer With Your Eyes
September 2012 With an eye-tracking device and software, people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, missing limbs or spinal cord injuries will be able to use just their eyes to control their computers.
Designed by researchers at Imperial College London, the system is low-cost, using fast video game console cameras and a pair of glasses. The cameras take pictures of the eye to pinpoint where the pupil is pointing, and by measuring this the researchers can figure out where the person is looking on the computer screen.
Measurements of how far into the distance the person is looking can also be taken, which means people could also control an electronic wheelchair or prosthetic limb with their eyes.
More information on this project is available in the July issue of Journal of Neural Engineering.
Better Vision Can Mean Clearer Thinking in Elderly
August 2012 Can you get brain fog from not wearing your glasses? A study of elderly Chinese suggests that not seeing clearly can lead to lower cognitive function levels.
Cognitive function is the ability to perceive, understand and remember ideas. A low cognitive function score can mean a reduced ability to make good decisions and live independently.
Cognitive function was calculated in 3,127 participants of the Beijing Eye Study, all of whom had received eye and medical examinations.
After adjusting for factors such as age, education level, gender and occupation, the researchers found that participants whose vision problems were not fully corrected or who failed to wear their glasses had a significantly lower cognitive function score than others.
A study report was published online this month in Acta Ophthalmologica.
Do Migraines Cause Dry Eyes?
August 2012 A study that compared 33 migraine sufferers with 33 people without headache, eye disease or systemic disease found significantly more eye dryness among the people with migraine.
How migraines could be related to dry eyes is not clear from the study, but the researchers speculated that some migraines may worsen when dry eye syndrome is present.
The study report appeared on the website of the journal Cornea in June.
Eye-Tracking Glasses Reveal Attention-Getting Strategies for Teachers
July 2012 When students are in a classroom, what captures their attention most? Unfortunately, it's not always the material the instructor is trying to teach.
College student wearing Tobii eye-tracking glasses.
A four-month eye-tracking study at Kennesaw State University discovered that classroom attention ebbs and flows depending on a variety of factors. This is contrary to the widely held belief that students are most attentive during the first 15 minutes of class and gradually less attentive after that.
During the study, eight students wore Tobii Glasses, a wearable eye-tracking device that looks like clunky eyewear. The devices found that attention-getters included humor, the verbal presentation of material that was not in the instructor's PowerPoint presentation and close proximity of the instructor to the student.
Not surprisingly, mobile phones and the Internet (especially Facebook) were the biggest distractions to students.
A study report, "Studying Student Attention via Eye Tracking," will be published this fall.
New Video on Avoidable Blindness Challenges You to Get Involved
June 2012 What is avoidable blindness? It's vision impairment caused by a lack of access to eye exams, eyeglasses and eye care, and it is especially prevalent in developing countries.
One example is the lack of eyeglasses that keeps many children from attending school and learning a trade.
Another example is an elderly person who can no longer see because of cataracts, which could be removed in 30 minutes if only she could afford the surgery.
Although avoidable blindness is a huge problem in the developing world, people like Emily Longstaff know we can do something about it.
She created a charming, inspiring stop-motion animation that reminds us how special our gift of vision is and that we can help others to have it simply by supporting global initiatives such as Vision 20/20 and Optometry Giving Sight. It took her six months to create, using only $184.41 worth of materials.
Watch the video and get inspired!
Caffeine: A Boon to Dry Eyes?
May 2012 Your Starbucks habit may help improve your dry eyes, according to a study conducted at the University of Tokyo's School of Medicine.
All 78 study participants produced more tears after consuming caffeine than they did after taking a placebo (both substances were in tablet form).
In the study, tear volume was measured within 45 minutes of consuming the tablets, and none of the participants knew which substance they had received.
All avoided caffeine use for six days before each session, and all were free from high blood pressure, eye allergies, glaucoma, dry eye syndrome, and other problems that can change tear production.
The caffeine may stimulate tear glands in some way, as it does saliva and digestive juice production. The researchers also found that the participants whose DNA contained two genetic variations that are important in caffeine metabolism had more tear production than the other participants.
A report of the study appeared in the journal Ophthalmology in February.
Google Glasses? Really?
April 2012 Yes, someday the Internet giant may release eyewear that provides you information literally right before your eyes. The development team has dubbed the effort "Project Glass" and hopes to integrate Internet access in the lenses, so you're never without it.
A fascinating video shows how you might use the eyewear throughout the day, to stay on top of your scheduled events, listen to music, check the weather, map out a route, communicate with friends and more all without help from a smartphone or computer.
Google says it has been noodling over ways to integrate the electronics with prescription eyewear an aspect of the project that poses quite a few challenges. But if you wear contacts or don't need a prescription, this would probably not be an issue.
A Project Glass team member posted on their Google+ page, "We think technology should work for you to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don't." Watch the video, then tell Google if you think Project Glass is or isn't on track to meet that goal (you'll need to sign into Google+ to post your comments).
Want To Preserve Your Eye Health and Vision? Try a Quit-Smoking App
If you're ready to quit, your mobile device can help, with one of the many quit-smoking apps now available. Here is one, called "Quit Smoking Now with Max Kirsten" for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Max Kirsten is a well known hypnotherapist who developed a smoking cessation program that is now available as an app. It includes videos, hypnotherapy session recordings, an e-book, a smoking calculator and more. Click here for a link to "Quit Smoking Now."
Be sure to read the user reviews before you buy this or any other apps, to make sure you know what you're getting.
Eyes Better Than Ears for Evoking Quick Reactions
March 2012 Humans rely on sight more than sound or touch for identifying threats, says a study conducted at Old Dominion University.
Thirty undergraduates received alerts about nearby enemies during virtual reconnaissance sessions and were asked to say which alerts they trusted and which they distrusted. They were also asked to identify the avatar they saw as friend or enemy.
Visual alerts resulted in quicker identifications than did auditory or tactile alerts. The research may have important implications for battlefield operations.
A report of the study appeared in the February issue of Intelligent Decision Technologies.
Please click here for eye and vision news from 2011.
[Page updated February 5, 2014]
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