Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Doctors say college years put extra strain on eyes

Alex Chandler never wore glasses until he was 21.

“I did more reading in college than I ever had,” said Chandler, a student in Northwestern’s School of Continuing Studies. “My eyes for the first time got so bad that I needed glasses to see the board.”

Chandler, who estimated he reads for three to four hours every day, said he linked his need for glasses to “excess reading” — a problem many college students face.

“For the most part, college students generally have good eyes,” said Dr. William Myers, the ophthalmologist for NU athletes and a doctor at the Myers Center for the Eye, 2500 Ridge Ave.

Although there’s no evidence that the college experience worsens vision, Myers and other local eye doctors said reading and computer work mean it’s also important for college students to take some caution in protecting their eyes.

Dr. Frank Rubin, an optometrist at Evanston Eyes, 1962 Dempster St., said no biological changes happen to the eyes during college because the length and shape of a person’s eyeballs are set by the age of 7.

“After that it’s the way you use your eyes,” Rubin said. “What happens is people do a tremendous amount more reading and computer work when they’re in college.”

He said college students — and anyone else who does large amounts of close-up reading– often can develop “pseudo-myopia,” where the eyes cannot relax after long periods of focusing and begin to blur images.

Rubin recommended that students take breaks during extended periods of reading.

He also said he frequently prescribes practicing visual imagery, wherein a person closes their eyes and imagines a relaxing scene, such as bird flying in the sky.

Myers said he sees the most problems with law students, who often do even more extensive reading than undergraduates.

Computers can also pose a problem for college students’ eyes.

Myers said that for college students, focusing is not normally a problem when working on the computer because the focal point is twice as far away from ones eyes as a book would be.

However, he said, staring at a computer screen for long amounts of time can lead to dry eyes — especially in older people.

Myers recommended that computer users blink every time they press the “Return” key so blinking becomes a conscious, frequent habit.

But Myers said the bigger problem with using computers for prolonged periods is sitting in a rigid position which can lead to strain in the lower back.

NU does not employ an ophthalmologist. According to Dr. Donald Misch, director of university health services, students are referred to outside doctors, many of whom offer special discounts and promotions to NU students.

Myers recommended that people who wear contact lenses have an eye exam annually and that those who don’t wear them have an exam every two to three years.

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Doctors say college years put extra strain on eyes