Eye, Eye, Sir
HUGH GRANT ROWELL
HUNGRILY the brown-skinned woman with high cheek-bones, flat nose and tangled hair cast quick glances up and down the darkening canyon, watching for her long-armed man who should soon appear, stone-headed club in one hand and the body of some small food animal slung over his shoulder.
The shadows lengthened. That evil god, Darkness, began to spread its horrid wings over the land. 'Ehe woman stared through the murky gloom. Only primitive eyes like hers could have detected her consort far away. She hurried to stir up the fire. They would feast tonight.
The meal over, the two sat lazily by the embers of their fire. In queer guttural language he told how he had seen a tiny flutter among the twigs, noted a camouflage of animal color which did not quite match its forest background. He had stolen up on the creature, defeating its keen senses with his own strategy till—whang!—and he had his food supply.
As he turned, his eyes showed him another hunter, stalking him.
They had good eyes in those days. They had to in order to survive.
Good eyes we still need, but for somewhat different purposes. For protection —from madly-driven motor cars; for action, fighting—over a tennis net in club matches. Indeed, most of our muscular movements are controlled by the eye. The “eye route” is the portal of entry of most of our education.
Good eyes we need. Why have we ceased to have them?
THE REASON, according to theory A, is that man has moved indoors and used his eyes first in the limited natural light or unsuitable artificial light, and, second, for close work, bending over fiat tables, whereas their position of rest and therefore greatest efficiency is for distant vision up and out. But, states the theory, we become nearsighted as an adaptation to the new conditions. This seems like nonsense, since a normal eye can do close work satisfactorily, granted proper methods are used.
Much sounder is theory B—that abuse has taken and is taking a mighty and as yet improperly dammed toll among human eyes; beginning as, would be expected, in the weak years of childhood but never ceasing. We have not fully checked such abuse when we sentence to a life in lenses little Peter, who is discovered at the annual school tests of vision to have become nearsighted. Why must Peter or Mary, or any except a very few of us have to use glasses in the days of our youth or even later? Intelligent sight-saving would help us to escape such badges of too common carelessness or stupidity on the part of person or persons unnamed.
This is not discounting the value of glasses. They have been tried and true crutches since around the year 1300. For nearsight, some of the early ones had pinholes instead of lenses. This worked quite nicely, certainly better than nothing. Once, because of their expensiveness, they were the privilege and marker of the wealthy. Today they are
not only priced reasonably but are claimed by some to add to our beauty and personality, or even to give us a bit of a scholarly air. But they can never equal the efficiency and beauty of the normal organ. Why, then, have we submitted so complacently to the invasion of impairments of vision? We have known about the situation long enough.
Almost in the very year of Canadian Confederation, Cohn, in Europe, and a number of men on this side, found approximately the same percentages of nearsight among children and adults in various situations as we find today. They protested vociferously. Today, seventy years later, in the midst of an era whose progress is attributed to science, we are unable to show that our eyes have more than held their own, or that we have done more than prevent a distressing situation becoming devastating.
Mechanism of the Eye
riRST OF ALL, we can learn a little about the eye—the P innocent victim of this crime.
The all-seeing eye, as we often call it. Six big muscles
move it in all directions about a fixed axis. The “Big Six” are normally in a state of balance, which reminds us of two teams in a tug-of-war. One of these muscles which rotates the eyeball has about the neatest little block and tackle arrangement you ever saw to aid in its work.
Each eyeball is oval and lies in its own little cave in the skull, as nicely packed and padded as a cut-glass vase going to Singapore as a present. Covering the eyeball is a tough protective membrane called the cornea in front where
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it is transparent, and elsewhere the sclera.
As we look at an eye, we see, first of all, two things a central black dot which is the pupil, and. surrounding it, a colored ring, the iris. This apparatus— the iris being muscle and the pupil merely a hole—regulates the amount of light that goes into the eye. In bright daylight the pupil is tiny, as it is under drugs like morphia. In the dark or in dim light the pupil is larger, as it is w hen drops are placed in your eye previous to an eye test.
The eye has two chambers. The front one of these is filled with a watery fluid. Between the two chambers is a partition containing small muscles of accommodation and the lens, the shape of which is changed by these muscles as we focus on an object, thereby differing from many lower creatures who move their lens back and forth as in a camera. Our lens, like the ladies when a new fashion appears, changes its shape to fit the occasion.
Light having passed through the lens, enters the inner chamber of the eyes, which, like the outer one, is filled w ith fluid under tension; this time a thicker fluid not unlike waterglass, that familiar safe-deposit vault for eggs.
In this inner chamber is a nourishing layer called the choroid which also prevents the reflection of light, thus avoiding glare inside the eyeball even if man is careless about avoiding it outside.
The retina, the inmost coat of the inner eye, has friore layers than Salome had veils, the score being ten to seven. The inmost of the ten consists of the rods and the cones, with which we do some pretty fancy seeing.
If. for example, you spied a charming girl in a bright red dress, a saucy black hat perched on her midnight-colored hair, her pearly teeth revealing a smile you hoped was meant for you, the rods and cones would be doing the trick for you. The rods would contribute the part about the black and the red and the pearls. The cones would spy that smiling lip movement, and because they detect movement in general they would also warp you if she started to “walk out” on you. Should you take this girl for a stroll in the evening, the cones would aid you in seeing in the dark, though they are less effective as we growolder, doubtless because we settle down and stroll less. If you are color-blind, blame it on the rods, though you can do nothing about it. If you have that curious thing, night-blindness, which is self-defining, the cones are not performing their duty.
Now as this g(xxl-l<x>king girl "goes to your head." her picture travels along the cablelike nerve which is attached to the rear of the eyeball. This nerve takes a path with all the ramifications of a railroad cross-ovér. If your brain is working at all, after thè information the eye has given you you will become vocal and find yourself saying to milady in red: "Where do w-e go for afternoon tea and a dance or two?” And this will be much easier on the eye, though perhaps harder on the heart, than poring over a book in some dim light in the bad postures most of us assume.
Abuse of Eyes in Offices
SUPPOSING we plagiarize the Bard of Avon by indicating our Seven Ages of Eye Trouble. The infant, “mewling and puking in the nurses arms.” is bom farsighted. Why, goodness knows. Usually his eyes adjust themselves by the age of seven. The child going “unwillingly to school" may be unconsciously apprehensive about his eyes. And well he might be. He will, it is true, probably escape glasses for the first three grades, but when he reaches the stage where study and therefore strenuous use of the eyes begins, he will probably need them.
The percentage of glasses required rises from seven to ten for the first three grades.
and from fifteen to thirty for the next ones. Fifty per cent is about right for college, though some studies reveal as high as eightyeight per cent. In our studies of schools, college and unselected groups, the figures secured by Miss Olive Grace Henderson and myself were approximately the above. We also found that about twenty-five per cent of unselected New York subway passengers wore glasses; that figure not including all who needed them.
The young business man abuses his eyes both at home and in his office. In the factory, eyes get better attention because production is increased and accidents lessened when lighting and other sight-saving devices are properly installed.
The period between twenty and fifty years is a fairly stable one. The greatest demands are made on the eyes at a time they are best able to bear them, though abuse is still anything but sensible. Around thirtyfive. an astigmatism which has been harbored for some years but kept in good control may begin to produce headaches and force us to join the Lens Wearers’ Guild.
Astigmatism, according to the medical dictionaries, is “a condition of unequal curvatures along the different meridians in one or more of the refractive surfaces of the eye.” The effect on visual acuity, which is our real interest in the subject, is practically the same as that of nearsight or farsight or both, depending on which of these impairments occur on the offending meridian. Astigmatism may and does occur in children as well as adults: in fact it is more likely than not to be part of a visual impairment.
The age of parenthood carries with it the worries about transmitting stigma to the next generation. There are. I’ll admit, families where nearsight is transmitted. Transmission is more frequent to daughters than sons. But any nearsighted parent who has violated all the laws of eye hygiene may still retain the exclusive right to be punished for his own sins if he will believe that environment and not heredity is the real reason for most nearsight. And this should sting him into positive action at once. What may be done I shall define presently.
Around forty or forty-five we have trouble with presbyopia or “old sight.” We cannot read comfortably till we get our new reading glasses. logically there comes a time when things change, wear out, break down. At best, we can but delay this.
Can we prevent this? Perhaps. Age is a factor. So are certain occupational hazards, like the radiated heat and excessive perspiration in glass-blowing. There are cataract families. Certain poisons may produce it.
It may follow eye injuries or certain diseases of the eye. The real prevention, if any, lies in the use of proper glasses in cases where eyes are both far-sighted and astigmatic. For these may be susceptible. But the most helpful statement about cataract is that, if you have it and have patience too, there are excellent and satisfactory surgical procedures which, though they will not give you the eyes of youth, will surprise you after you get your new glasses.
The aged may have “second sight”— that is, be able to read for the rest of their lives without glasses. But you have to wait till seventy-five or eighty to get this boon.
Other Unnecessary Eye Punishment
ANALYZING our “Seven Ages,” it is / \ obvious that campaigning for good eyes should begin at birth and that we layup trouble for ourselves every minute we delay thereafter. But it is never too late to begin sight-saving, and there will always be a reward, though we may not realize it.
The first and most strategic advance is against nearsight or myopia—the “Grand Panjandrum” of all eye troubles. The common cause of myopia is reading in bad position in poor light. This is a crime against
both eyes and body. And once with us, myopia is a continued pest and extortionist.
Let’s figure out our crime-prevention methods.
The first is to sit right. Watch average school children study. Notice how you yourself read. Somehow we read and study in curled and unnatural positions which cramp our chests and abdomens so that hearts, lungs and other organs do not function properly. We bend our necks till they ache. Is it any wonder school children stand, sit and slouch in most abominable positions?
There is a proper way to sit and read, and you can’t begin too young to learn it. It is easy, simple and comfortable. First of all, “sit tall.” Have a good light over the left shoulder and from above, if you are right-handed. This avoids shadows on the work. Prop the reading with a pile of books, easel <5r any device available, in such a way that the book surface will form an angle of not less than forty-five degrees with the flat desk surface. Experiment to get the angle you like best. Keep the reading material fourteen inches or slightly more away from the eyes, again suiting your own comfort. Bring the reading up to the eye, not the eye down to the reading.
Reading in a bad position—that is, bent over flat-topped tables and desks—places the eyes under unnecessary strain. Some theories of the causes of nearsight are based on this unnecessary punishment. The range over which the eye can see is about fifty degrees outward, fifty degrees inward, forty degrees upward and sixty degrees downward. If you want to experience the discomfort of trying to use the whole range, just get a friend to draw a pencil slowly toward his eyes. At a point three or four inches from the eye the eyeballs, which have been converging up to this point, will break away and resume the straight position. Your friend will at the same time mention a momentary strained feeling in his eye. Its range has been abused. In the usual reading punishment, it is the downward range that is abused.
Some claim that the elongation of the eyeball, which is characteristic of nearsight, is a result of the strain and pull of one of two of the “big six” muscles which move the eyeball, the plastic eyeball of the child being susceptible to the pressure. Others claim that the force of gravity, when the eyeball is continuously used in the downward position, brings on the myopia. European research workers felt they proved this by the monkey business of suspending simians head downward and watching them develop nearsightedness.
There are, of course, plenty of other theories about nearsight. None of them, at any rate, are in conflict with how to avoid it by reading properly in good light.
Reading properly includes regular periods of rest, five to twenty minutes apart, depending on the age and quality of the eye. The eye, it is true, rests by a fractional moment of blurring or blindness as it moves over stationaryobjects. Nature does her best. But her best is not enough for this day and age.
Because, as stated before, the rest position of the eye is that for distant vision, we pause in our reading or close work and either look off in the distance or accomplish the same thing by closing our eyes, whereupon the eye assumes the distant position. For general conservation of energy it is a good idea to rest the mind and the body at the same time as the eyes. Some use the moment for brief reflection upon work just done.
Flat-topped Desks are Bad
LIGHTING is indeed a problem. Homes _ and offices are still badly lighted. In a home the best illumination may be on a valued painting. Sit down for an evening of bridge and you will have a lamp or two
. over the table which probably are at the wrong angle. Ceiling and wall fixtures stare you in the eye or give practically no light at all. That headache you bring home from the game might be the poor ventilation because some fussy lady could not stand a draught, but a bad light may have been to blame too. And you’ll find the same bad light in your own home—unnecessarily.
Factories and schools have done better. In every room of a modem school batteries of windows, correctly placed, ensure glareless light over the left shoulders. Shades on the windows can be pulled up and down to ensure almost absolute control of the natural light. Indeed, by the use of a photo-electric cell, you can have a watchman that will turn on the electricity at a certain percentage of daylight and off at a more suitable one. No artificial light, however, has as yet approached all the good qualities of sunlight.
Glare has been fought and conquered. Shine has gone out of the modem classroom—except the shine of happiness on the faces of pupils and teacher. Gone are the reflecting walls, furniture and blackboards, bare electric light bulbs, uncontrolled sun rays and even the gleaming paper in the books. Books are now printed on glareless paper in good-sized, well-leaded type, sometimes in so-called “sight-saving fonts.”
With the modern movable school seat and desk unit, you can even follow the sun around the room, thus avoiding glare and affording the best possible illumination. Strangely enough, school seating is about the worst thing in education. The sightsaving classes—the laboratories in which most of these eye-conservation methods have been developed—have, as standard equipment, movable seating units with adjustable tops. With such units it is possible to meet exactly the requirements set for proper reading position, both in terms of the eyes and the rest of the body. Yet in most regular classrooms are found desks admittedly not designed for reading, even though no small percentage of a school day consists of exactly that use of the eyes.
But if school desks except those with adjustable tops are bad for the eyes, think also of the desks at home or office which invariably are flat-topped. Here is an opportunity for use of the family axe. Or, what is cheaper, set up study conditions, reading conditions, working conditions in general, along the lines already stated in this article. If such methods will conserve the vision of those poor children in the sight-saving classes who have an extremely low percentage of residual vision or other equally unpleasant liabilities—so low that they have to be taught to throw more burden on their other senses to conserve the eyes—they certainly will do far more for individuals with fairly good eyes or even first-class eyes that it is desired to keep firstclass.
There are a few other eye abnormalities worth mentioning briefly. Far-sight, usually congenital, is well handled by glasses. Our Ben Turpins, if their crossed eyes are placed under treatment very early in life, do nicely. Unless other methods get results we can operate, and this is done fairly early. Rebalancing the “big six” does the trick; after which certain follow-up measures are in order. ' Other impairments we consider in our “Seven Ages.”
In the front line of this fight upon crimes against the eye there has been a devoted voluntary organization, advised by the best authority, which has striven to find suitable conservation methods and then publicize them sanely. Yet, somehow% few of us have realized the damage that is unnecessarily being done daily in all walks of life to eyes of all ages. Nor have we appreciated how comparatively simple, inexpensive or even costless are the preventive methods which make childhood and schooldays a joy.