As a severely nearsighted person, I'd always thought that the bit
about nearsightedness being related to reading in dim light was an old
wives' tale. Much to my astonishment, it appears that the old wives
may have been onto something. While there is no consensus of opinion
on the matter, there is some support for the theory that myopia may be
related to eyestrain (such as that which can occur when reading in dim
light,) particularly when the eyestrain occurs in childhood.
Here are several online sources that may interest you:
"Is it possible to ruin your eyesight through overuse, close work,
inadequate light, and so on? The usual answer from the MDs is no. But
don't be too sure. A fair number of people believe that some eye
problems, notably myopia (nearsightedness), are a 'product of
civilization,' as one researcher puts it. The most striking
demonstration of this was a study in the late 60s of eyesight among
Eskimoes in Barrow, Alaska. These people had been introduced to the
joys of civilization around World War II. The incidence of myopia in
those age 56 and up was zero percent; in parents age 30 and up, 8
percent; in their children, 59 percent. The same phenomenon has turned
up in studies of other newly-civilized peoples, suggesting that modern
life somehow causes nearsightedness... Animal studies tend to support
the idea that myopia is caused by eyestrain. Normal monkeys are not
myopic; neither are monkeys whose eyes are kept completely sealed off
from light. But monkeys whose eyes were sutured so they could see only
dimly (I realize this is the kind of thing that outrages animal rights
activists) did become myopic, presumably because they could see
something and strained their eyes trying to see more."
The Straight Dope Archives: Will Sitting Too Close to the TV, Reading
with Bad Light, Etc., Ruin Your Eyes?
"Remember the advice of not reading in poor light or in a moving car
or holding the book too close to your face as it could ruin your
sight? This may well be so. The way we use our eyes early in life can
affect vision, said the British Medical Journal in its latest issue.
The Journal links myopia - a visual impairment that makes it difficult
to see distant objects without corrective spectacles - to prolonged
reading... Senior faculty member at the Rajendra Prasad Centre at the
All India Institute of Medical Sciences, R B Vajpayee, said, 'although
it has not been actually proven, but the association of myopic vision
and faulty reading is known to exist.' Myopia, among the children
especially, is rising, he said. In fact, a nationwide survey on the
possible causes of visual impairment, showed refractive errors second
only to cataract, added Vajpayee. The researchers of the Journal also
found a strong correlation between level of academic achievement and
the prevalence and progress of myopic refractive errors."
The Times of India: Early Reading Habits Affect Sight
"All those anxious parents who have told their children over the years
that they would damage their eyes by reading under the bedclothes or
in bad light, or by holding a book too close to the face, were
probably right all along, according the British Medical Journal... The
author of a paper in this week's BMJ, Douglas Fredrick, associate
clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California in
San Francisco, says the hypothesis that intensive reading and writing
in childhood can cause myopia has a substantial amount of supporting
The Guardian: Put That Light Out - Study Finds Too Much Reading May
Well Ruin Children's Eyes
"The latest that came in the British Medical Journal is that reading
under dim light or holding a book too close can damage the eyes of the
young. US eye experts believe the way we use our eyes when young can
affect the way the eyes develop. Douglas Frederick, associate clinical
professor of ophthalmology at University of California, San Francisco,
wrote that short-sightedness, or myopia, is on the rise... He said the
patterns of short-sightedness were not just linked to childhood
habits. People whose professions entail much reading during either
training or performance of the occupation have higher degrees of
myopia, and that it may progress not just in people's teenage years,
but throughout their 20s and 30s."
Pakwatan: Reading in the Dark
A search of the National Library of Medicine's Medline index using the
keywords "myopia" and "reading" yields these abstracts (and many
others related to this subject):
PubMed Abstract: Addition Lens Alleviates Reading-induced Ocular
PubMed Abstract: Parental Myopia, Near Work, School Achievement, and
Children's Refractive Error
PubMed Abstract: Differential Refractive Susceptibility to Sustained
PubMed Abstract: Nearwork Induced Transient Myopia During Myopia
PubMed Abstract: An Evolutionary Analysis of the Aetiology and
Pathogenesis of Juvenile-onset Myopia
PubMed Abstract: The Effect of Reading and Near-work on the
Development of Myopia in Emmetropic Boys
On the other hand, there are hundreds of online citations which state
that reading in poor light has no permanent effect on one's vision.
Here are a couple of Google web search strings which will take you to
many such statements:
Google Web Search: "reading in dim light"
Google Web Search: "reading in poor light"
Key phrases used in locating this information included variations of
the search terms "poor light," "dim light," "reading," "causes,"
"nearsightedness" "myopia," and "poor vision."
Thanks for asking a very interesting question. If anything I've said
is unclear or incomplete, or if any of the links do not function,
please request clarification before rating my answer, and I'll be glad
to offer further assistance.
Request for Answer Clarification by
10 Feb 2003 05:03 PST
Thanks for providing your answer.
The first several citations, unfortunately, were just people
speculating about myopia, and not the actual study results that I
need. The BMJ article by Fredrick they refer to (BMJ 2002 May
18;324(7347):1195-9) is actually just a review article, and not an
actual study. His conclusion that good lighting is important is pure
speculation, and not in fact a result of his study or those he
The Medline references were related on the whole to nearwork, and not
reading in dim light.
The Google search results seemed to all be people saying "It's just a
myth," but not providing any reasoning.
Having said all this, I looked too, and appreciate that it may be hard
to find a study that investigated this. An editorial by Fredrick (Br
J Ophthalmol 2001;85:509-510 (May) Myopia: was mother right about
reading in the dark?) doesn't cite any actual studies, but obviously
wishes it could.
Back to your answer - if you tell me that you looked, too, and were
unable to find any studies, so you therefore gave me what you had
found, then I'll take your word for it. If, on the other hand, your
impression was that the answers you provided were in fact what I was
looking for, then I think that you may have missed my point (that I am
looking for reputable published studies, and not speculations by eye
doctors or others). In this latter case, I look forward to hearing
the results of any searching you are able to do.