Literary Pursuits
As an optometrist, Dr. Jones tests for eye conditions that can interfere with reading.

As an optometrist, Dr. Jones tests for eye conditions that can interfere with reading.

Eyes get a closer look in search for improved reading speed, comprehension.

Around Labor Day, Brian W. Jones, OD, an optometrist at Central Florida Eye Specialists, resolved to get back into shape. He examined various approaches for achieving his goal and settled on a “transformational mental toughness” program called 75 Hard.

Although 75 Hard includes a fitness component, it primarily targets other self-improvement aspects of life, such as confidence, self-esteem, fortitude and discipline.

“As part of the 75 Hard program, participants do five things every day for 75 days,” Dr. Jones details. “One thing is work out twice a day. Another is drink a certain amount of water each day. One of the five requirements of the program is to read 10 pages of a non-fiction, non-self-help book every day.

“My problem is that I’ve never been a good reader. It’s just not comfortable for me. I read slowly and even throughout my academic career I was not an efficient reader. I would find myself at the bottom of the page and my mind would drift. I often had to reread the page even slower.”

Faced with the challenge of reading 10 pages every day, Dr. Jones looked into methods for improving his reading speed and comprehension. One method caught his attention and he decided to try it.

“This technique involves moving your finger underneath each line of words on the page from left to right, spending about a second to a second and a half per line,” Dr. Jones describes. “Your eyes follow your finger as you scan down the page line-by-line.

“When I started doing this, I was amazed that not only could I read faster, but I was also retaining more of what I read. After a few days of using this technique, I started wondering about how it works. How does following your finger make a difference in your reading speed and comprehension?”

Smooth Versus Jerky

Dr. Jones did some research and learned that when people read word-to-word, they’re actually reading the text out loud in their mind, and that’s a very slow way to read. But if people scan across a line, they actually absorb the words and retain what they read.

“When people read word-to-word across a line of text, they’re using a type of eye movement called a saccade,” Dr. Jones informs. “Saccades are fast and jerky eye movements that rapidly change the point of fixation. They don’t concentrate on the words people are reading. 

“When people try to look from left to right slowly, they’ll notice that the movement is not smooth; it’s jerky. If they’re in traffic and look around at the environment, it’s not smooth. They can look left to right quite rapidly, but they don’t focus on any one thing.”

There is another type of eye movement, called pursuits, in which the eyes move smoothly instead of in jerks. They are called “pursuits” because this eye movement is used when following, or pursuing, an object.

“Say a person is driving and a bird flies across the sky. The driver locks onto the bird and watches it fly,” Dr. Jones relates. “The driver’s eye movements while watching the bird are very smooth, so they’re called smooth pursuits. The difference between saccades and pursuits is that with pursuits the eye is tracking something. 

“Following your finger left to right on a page as you read is also a smooth pursuit because you’re tracking your finger across the text. Using this eye movement, people are actually able to read faster and absorb more content.”

Saccades and pursuits occur naturally, Dr. Jones notes. 

“When people are looking around a room, most of the time they are using saccades,” the doctor contends. “But if they’re playing sports, tennis for example, their eyes are following the tennis ball and their eye movement is more smooth. At these times, they’re using pursuits.

“There is no training involved in using the pursuits method for reading. People simply follow their fingers left to right from line to line down the page. By doing this, they will increase their reading speed and comprehend more of what they read. I encourage people to try it for themselves.”

Reading Obstacles

While this technique can improve reading and comprehension, there are certain eye conditions that can interfere with reading, Dr. Jones reports. One is vitreal floaters.

“The inside of the eye is filled with a substance called vitreous,” the optometrist explains. “When we’re young, the vitreous is a gel. But over time it liquifies and forms little deposits. Vitreal floaters are the shadows of these deposits on the retina – the light-sensitive nerve tissue lining the back of the eye – that people can see moving across their vision. 

“Vitreal floaters can move around in front of people’s eyes while they’re trying to read, making reading difficult.”

Vitreal floaters have many shapes. People have described them as black or very dark spots, amoebas, squiggly lines, thread-like strands, clouds and even spider webs. Sometimes, they are accompanied by flashes of light.

A sudden onset of floaters and/or flashes of light could signal a more serious problem, such as a retinal tear or retinal detachment. Anyone who experiences these symptoms should see an eye doctor immediately. A dilated eye exam can reveal any problems with the retina so treatment can be started before any vision is lost.

Another condition that can affect reading is dry eye disease, where there aren’t enough tears or the quality of the tears is inadequate to keep the eyes moisturized. A symptom is blurred vision, which can impede reading.

“Dry eyes are uncomfortable,” Dr. Jones maintains. “Other symptoms of dry eye include a stinging, burning or scratchy sensation in the eyes, redness, sensitivity to light, difficulty wearing contact lenses and a feeling that there’s something in your eye.”

Dry eye disease is most common in women and people older than 50, as well as those who wear contact lenses or have had refractive surgery. Other causes of dry eye include hormonal changes, autoimmune disease and an obstruction of the oil glands. 

Even reading can cause dry eye disease.

“As people read, they blink less, the tears evaporate and the eyes become dry,” Dr. Jones educates. “The eyes may not feel dry, but the vision can become blurry. Sometimes, using a moisturizing drop as you read, especially if you’re reading for a long time, can help keep your eyes moist and the images clear.” 

Treatment for dry eye typically begins with over-the-counter artificial tears. More advanced treatments include anti-inflammatory eyedrops, punctal plugs to reduce the amount of tears exiting the eyes and eyedrops made from the patient’s blood serum.

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo. Photo by Jordan Pysz. js
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    • Central Florida Eye Specialists

      Central Florida Eye Specialists offers an extensive list of medical and surgical treatments so that they can better serve their patients. They evaluate your individual needs and setup the most appropriate treatment method. Some of their s... Read More

    • Brian W. Jones, OD

      Brian W. Jones, OD, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Central Florida and a Doctor of Optometry degree from the University of Houston College of Optometry. He was awarded the Vision Research Fellowship from... Read More