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Each year during the month of January we recognize World Braille Day which gives us the opportunity to take a moment and appreciate the incredible gift that Braille has given to those who are blind or suffer from vision loss. 

What is Braille?

Braille is a tactile representation of letters and numbers that can be utilized by people with vision loss to read using their fingers.  The system uses combinations of six raised dots – three rows of two – that serve to represent the numbers, letters and even symbols such as music notes. 

Braille History:

Braille was developed by a young Frenchman named Louis Braille and was first published in 1829. Braille invented the system at the age of 15 after he became blind as the result of an accident. The idea was originally based on night writing, a touch-based military code developed for Napoleon’s army by Charles Barbier as a strategy for soldiers to be able to communicate silently in the dark. Barbier’s code was ultimately rejected because it was too difficult to be used effectively by the soldiers. Barbier and Braille later met at the Royal Institute for the Blind in Paris and Braille was able to adapt the idea into a more functional system. In braille, the characters, or letters, are each represented by a cell or block with a particular arrangement of raised dots.

Not Just the ABC’s

While first developed for the French alphabet, braille has since been expanded for many languages including all the European-based languages, as well as Arabic and Asian languages. Even within those languages there are different forms of the system.  For example, in English, there is Grade 1 braille which is composed of the representation of the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet and is primarily used for those learning to read and write the language. Grade 2 on the other hand is the type of braille you are likely to see written in public places such as menus or signs as it is more complex. Grade 2 includes higher level punctuation, abbreviations and contractions. Lastly, Grade 3 is a form of shorthand designed for personal use such as taking notes or writing letters. 

In addition to the cells which represent the letters, braille may also include illustrations, graphs and symbols such as bullets or arrows. Further, a cell can also represent a number, a word or a punctuation mark. Because braille takes up more space than standard print there are many abbreviations or contractions that represent words or word sequences to save space. This also helps to improve the speed at which one can read and write using the system. 

How To Write Braille

Writing braille requires some tools. To do it by hand you need a stylus, which is a metal tool that is used to create the dots, a slate, which is a type of stencil used to align the dots into neat cells and card-stock paper which is heavy enough to emboss.  You can also write braille with a special braille typewriter or an electronic brailler as well as certain computer programs with a braille embosser printer. 

Being able to read and write braille allows those with vision impairment to learn and express themselves in a way that they would otherwise not be able to. While newer technologies such as screen readers and other computer based programs have become more common in recent years, braille is the foundation of innovation in improving the lives of the blind and vision impaired. 

Screen Time Pros and Cons

Whether it is homework, email, gaming, chatting with friends, searching the web or watching Youtube, kids these days seem to have an endless number of reasons to be glued to a screen. Many parents out there are wondering how bad this can be for their kids and whether they should be limiting screen time. 

There are certainly benefits to allowing your kids to use digital devices, whether it is educational, social or providing a needed break. However, studies show that excessive screen time can have behavioral consequences such as irritability, moodiness, inability to concentrate, poor behavior, and other issues as well. Too much screen time is also linked to dry eyes and meibomian gland disorders (likely due to a decreased blink rate when using devices), as well as eye strain and irritation, headaches, back or neck and shoulder pain, and sleep disturbances. Some of these computer vision syndrome symptoms are attributed to blue light that is emitted from the screens of digital devices.

Blue light is a short wavelength, high-energy visible light that is emitted by digital screens, LED lights and the sun. Studies suggest that exposure to some waves of blue light over extended periods of time may be harmful to the light-sensitive cells of the retina at the back of the eye. When these cells are damaged, vision loss can occur. Research indicates that extreme blue light exposure could lead to macular degeneration or other serious eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness. Studies show that blue light also interferes with the regulation of the the body’s circadian rhythm which can have a disruptive impact on the body’s sleep cycle. Lack of quality sleep can lead to serious health consequences as well. 

Beyond these studies, the long term effects of blue light exposure from digital devices are not yet known since this is really the first generation in which people are using digital devices to such an extent. While it may take years to fully understand the impact of excessive screen time on our eyes and overall health, it is probably worth limiting it due to these preliminary findings and the risks it may pose. This is especially true for young children and the elderly, who are particularly susceptible to blue light exposure. 

How to Protect the Eyes From Blue Light

The first step in proper eye protection is abstaining from excessive exposure by limiting the amount of time spent using a computer, smart phone or tablet – especially at night, to avoid interfering with sleep. Many pediatricians even recommend zero screen time for children under two. 

The next step would be to reduce the amount of blue light entering the eyes by using blue light blocking glasses or coatings that deflect the light away from the eyes. There are also apps and screen filters that you can add to your devices to reduce the amount of blue light being projected from the screen. Speak to your eye doctor about steps you can take to reduce blue light exposure from digital devices. 

As a side note, the sun is an even greater source of blue light so it is essential to protect your child’s eyes with UV and blue light blocking sunglasses any time your child goes outside – even on overcast days. 

The eyes of children under 18 are particularly susceptible to damage from environmental exposure as they have transparent crystalline lenses that are more susceptible to both UV and blue light rays. While the effects (such as increased risk of age-related macular degeneration) may not be seen for decades later, it’s worth it to do what you can now to prevent future damage and risk for vision loss. 

 

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