Indiana University

Skip to:

  1. Search
  2. Breadcrumb Navigation
  3. Content
  4. Browse by Topic
  5. Services & Resources
  6. Additional Resources
  7. Multimedia News

Excerpt from 'Don't Cross Your Eyes . . . They'll Get Stuck That Way!'

"Don't Cross Your Eyes…They'll Get Stuck that Way!", a new book by myth-fighting Indiana University School of Medicine pediatricians Aaron Carroll, M.D., M.S., and Rachel Vreeman, M.D., M.S., debunks the pearls of medical wisdom that many people and even their physicians believe are true.

Carroll, associate professor of pediatrics, and Vreeman, assistant professor of pediatrics, are physicians and health services researchers on a mission to bring evidence-based medicine to the general public and slay the growing number of health myths that are so prevalent.

"You shouldn't just accept that the toilet seat is the dirtiest place in the bathroom, or that the air on planes can make you sick, or that cell phones cause brain cancer. It's OK to question your physician. Asking 'why' is just as important as asking 'what,'" said Vreeman. Click here to read a news release about the new book.

Active for Life brings you this excerpt about TV and computer screen viewing habits and vision.

"Don't sit so close to the television! It will ruin your eyesight!" Many a child has heard this admonishment when staring at the TV or peering intently at a computer screen. Aaron watches more television than most people (despite being a highly productive researcher and professor), and he is blind as a bat without his glasses. Is his television-watching to blame for his nearsightedness?

Vreeman and Carroll

Rachel Vreeman, M.D. and Aaron Carroll, M.D.

Print-Quality Photo

This is one of those myths that we cannot disprove definitively because no one has done a great big study where some children are forced to watch television up close for hours and hours. (And no one is going to do that study.) We can tell you that there is absolutely no evidence that sitting close to the television or computer screen ruins your eyesight. Whether you sit within inches of the screen or whether you watch for hours and hours, there is no evidence that television will ruin your eyes.

This myth may have come from the early days of television. The first television sets actually emitted a lot of radiation. In fact, these televisions put out more than 100,000 times the radiation that the federal health officials deem safe. Sitting really close to those old televisions in the 1950s might have been a risk for a person's eyes. But this radiation from televisions is not a risk anymore. Televisions have improved in so many ways since then, and they no longer emit lots of radiation.

The reason this myth may stick around is because sitting close to the television can give you eye strain. When you sit close to the television, when you stare at a screen for a long period of time, or when you read in the dark, you do strain your eyes. Eye strain can cause eye pain, make your eyes dry and your vision fuzzy, and can even give you a headache. Thankfully, eye strain is a temporary condition. When you stop watching television or when you move into better conditions, your vision returns to normal. Just like running may give you tired legs but does not weaken your leg muscles permanently, most eye strain does not ruin your eyes forever. When you rest your eyes, they return to normal.

It is important to note that there may be a different kind of connection between a child who sits close to the television and a child with bad vision. When children need glasses, they will often start to sit closer and closer to the television or other screens, blackboards, or books. This is not because the television is ruining their eyes, but because they need help seeing! Children should have their vision tested regularly, and parents should be even more quick to get this testing for a child who seems to be sitting closer and closer to the television.

As pediatricians, we feel obligated to remind parents that there are other reasons why it might be a good idea to limit how much television a child watches. Even if their eyes are perfectly safe, watching too much television is connected with children being overweight or obese. Television might be particularly bad for babies and young children. Watching television, even educational videos or programs designed for babies and toddlers, has been associated with delayed learning and development. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under the age of two years not watch any television at all, and that television watching be limited to less than two hours per day for older children. Your mother was wrong about television hurting your eyes, but she may have been right on track about it hurting your developing brain.

"Don't Cross Your Eyes…They'll Get Stuck that Way!" is published by St. Martin's Press and is available online and at book stores across the country. Dr. Carroll and Dr. Vreeman, who are Regenstrief Institute affiliated scientists and Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health physicians, are also the authors of "Don't Swallow Your Gum!: Myths, Half-Truths, and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health," published in 2009. In this book they debunked such myths as eating turkey makes you sleepy and a dog's mouth is cleaner than a human's.

To read more articles from the IU School of Medicine, visit http://newsinfo.iu.edu/cat/page/normal/358.html.

Twitter