Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Eye See You Mr. ME

Being an optics geek and a geek in general I've always been fascinated by eyeballs and how they work.  My early fascination with them probably started when I had eye surgery when I was six to correct lazy eye and I've been learning about them ever since.

Eyeballs are pretty primitive actually.  You can think of them like a water balloon.  Kind of roundish and squishy.  They are literally a sack filled with fluid.  Then if you cut a hole in the balloon exactly opposite the knot and glue a lens in place, you have a pretty good replica.  Now add an imaging plane (photographic film) inside the balloon centered over the knot and you have an eyeball.  I think of the knot as the nerve cluster that heads off to the brain to transport the visual data from the imaging plane to the visual cortex in the brain.

The main problem with eyeballs is getting the balloon to focus the image coming from the lens onto the film so that the picture isn't fuzzy.  This is done with muscles.  So now add a pair of hands squishing and squeezing the balloon and you have an eyeball that can focus an image onto the film that can now be transmitted to the brain and the picture will be in focus.

What does this have to do with Mr. ME?  Muscles.  You are using muscles all the time you are using your eyes.  Muscles not only move your eyes around in their sockets but also squeeze them to maintain and change focus so that you can see objects up close or at distance.  Mr. ME doesn't let us use our muscles much before they become fatigued and this includes our eyes. 

Now reading and computer work in particular are difficult things for our eyes to do for any length of time even if we are healthy.  Eye fatigue from computer use is very common.  Did you know that you blink less when you stare at a computer screen?  This causes our eyeballs to dry out even in healthy people and increases eye fatigue. 

Our eyes aren't designed to be static.  When outdoors we are always looking around and constantly changing our focus.  Reading a computer screen is like standing still holding a 5lb pail out straight with our arm.  It isn't heavy at first but just wait until your arm gets tired.  It soon feels like it weights 5 tons instead of 5lbs.  This is what we are doing to our eyes using a computer.  We are forcing our eyeballs to stay at exactly the same focal distance for hours.  Now add CFS to the mix and it is no wonder that we have trouble reading and using a computer.

What to do?  Here are some tips and tricks from cubical world to help with reading:

  • Use indirect light.  Never ever ever have a light pointed directly at or over a computer screen.
  • On the other hand use really good lighting when reading a book or get the audio version.  My library has books that can be downloaded to my computer or I can get little dedicated MP3 player books from the library itself.
  • Use incandescent light in areas that you are trying to read (books or computer).  Eliminate florescent lighting in the area including CFLs.
  • For computer work use low room lighting directed away from your screen which is preferably incandescent.
  • Look away about every 15 minutes, defocus your eyes, look out the window to get your eyes to focus long distance.  The further away the better.  This is done naturally when flipping a page in a book.  Use a software timer to interrupt you if you get absorbed in material like I do.
  • Site your desk or chair near a window so you can look up and out frequently
  • Look away and blink rapidly and then close your eyes to remoisturize them
  • Lower the brightness level of your screen
  • Lower the contrast levels of your screen
  • Move the computer monitor as far away from you as possible.
  • Use writing software that allows you to change the background color.  White is very fatiguing.  Just look at the Kindle; they actually use a soft gray screen so that it is easier on the eyes.  It is also another reason books are easier to read than a computer screen.
  • Use an antiglare shield on the screen
  • You can even adjust the brightness of the TV set so that it is softer.  Again use low room light and sit as far away from the TV screen as you can.
  • Take frequent breaks.  Put down the reading and do a little stretching.  You don't have to necessarily get up.  Just move around a bit.  Wiggle.  Rest the eyes.
  • When I watch commercial TV I close my eyes during commercials to give them a rest.
  • Use the zoom function on the computer to enlarge the screen.  It makes things way easier to read.  I have it permanently set at 150% and often increase it to 200% or 400% if I am having trouble focusing on something in particular.
  • Fiddle with the assistive tech built into the computer software
    • On Windows go into the Control Panel and look for the wheelchair icon.
    • Vista has text to speech, contrast controls, mouse controls that make it easier to point and click and see the cursor, the ability to stop animations and get rid of background pics
  • Use text to speech software
  • Use speech to text software.  I used Dragon Naturally Speaking about six years ago when I was having problems with my hands.  I used the full version which is expensive but it is one of the better products on the market.  I did hate the autofill function which often guessed wrong and I did spend a considerable amount of time fixing what it typed.  You can get a home edition at Costco for about $60.
  • Do some eye palming (see first video)
  • Do some eye yoga (see second video).  I used to do an almost identical practice with my yoga teacher.  This is an excellent video and the exercises can be done lying down.  Bonus!!

Other resources:

http://www.visionworksusa.com/ vision exercises and nutrition by an ophthalmologist
http://www.working-well.org/index.html While this about ergonomics for healthy people, FM and CFS folk are even more suseptible the effects of bad posture and repetition.  This site has tons of information and resources.
 http://www.afb.org/section.asp?Documentid=787 state libraries for people with print disabilities i.e. LOTS of digital books

Feel free to add to the list of suggestion or links.


  1. My wonderful friend in FL just told me that speech to text comes bundled in the Windows Office suite. You just need a headset. He uses it and says that it works pretty well.

  2. Wow! That was a lot of great information! I guess I did get the ball rolling, huh? LOL!

  3. Weird stuff I've picked up over the years...