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The Eyes of the Electrologist

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As electrologists, it is essential for us to understand sight and how vision problems may impact both us and the patients we serve. Basic knowledge about the effects of aging on our vision and the importance of proper lighting will help us provide quality treatment.

A Misconception
The practice of electrolysis will not harm our eyesight; however, vision does decline with age. This does not mean you cannot study to become an electrologist if you are over 40, nor does it mean you will have to give up your electrology practice at the age of 65.

As we age, our vision changes in a variety of unique and unexpected ways. The most basic problem that occurs is the loss of visual acuity-the ability to discern detail. The practice of electrolysis demands that we be able to distinguish the various types of hair and epidermis.
If an electrologist cannot see the treatment area clearly, then the following factors should be considered:

  1. Do you need a stronger magnifier?
  2. Are glasses needed for close work or reading?
  3. Do you need new eyeglass lenses?
  4. Do you need a brighter light?

A Classic Sense
Vision is one of the most highly valued of the human senses. Light from surrounding objects is translated into electrical impulses that travel through the nerves to the brain where they are transformed into the shapes, colors, textures, and movements that make up our visual world.
We rely on the power of sight to help us distinguish the shape and structure of the hair. Is it straight, curly, or kinky? We examine the color or pigment in the hair. We determine the texture or diameter of the hair. In this way, we can judge the size of the needle/probe. And we look at the movement or angle of the hair for proper insertion. For electrologists, this becomes our private, visual world in which we must make important decisions in order to achieve the results we promise – permanent hair removal.


Physiology of the Eye
Light passes first through the eye's cornea, pupil, and lens, striking the retina at the back of the eye. There, it is filtered through several layers of retinal cells before hitting the receptor cells (rods and cones).
Rods and cones convert light into electrical impulses. These impulses are then transmitted through the ganglion cells that make up the optic nerve and on to the brain.
If we were to trace the path of each optic nerve to the brain, we would find that the area of the retina through which the optic nerve leaves the eye contains no receptor cells. This area is aptly called the "blind spot."
So, why don't we see holes in our visual field? One reason is that the blind spot in each eye is off center and one eye can usually see what the other does not. Another reason is that the eyes are constantly moving and the brain fills in visual information that may be missing.

Pathways to the Brain
Our optic nerve fibers have several trails through the brain. The most important trail is the one leading to the thalamus which serves as a relay station. From the thalamus, the nerve network extends to the visual cortex at the back of the brain. At this point, the nerve impulses are instructed to give rise to the visual sensations we call sight.

Light Becomes Sight
Cones and rods are two of the most interesting parts of our visual network. Cones dominate our daytime vision and are the primary mechanism for color vision. Rods, on the other hand, help us see at night or in very dim light. We see little color by moonlight because there is not enough light to stimulate the cones. But we can see shades of light and dark because moonlight is adequate to stimulate the rods. In fact, a rod is capable of responding to just a single photon of light.

Cones vs. Rods
There are about five million cones found in each human retina. Many of these cones are packed into an area at the center of the retina known as the fovea. This "pit like" depression contains thousands of cones, yet no rods at all. The fovea provides our most detailed vision.
In contrast to cones, rods are situated on either side of the fovea. Since these regions have few cones, they tend to be very sensitive to color. Shapes and contours appear less distinct when looked at with rods. This is why objects at night appear ill-defined. We are seeing the objects with our rods.

The Color Red
All photoreceptors, whether rods or cones, change light into electrical signals by means of chemical reactions. These reactions involve light-sensitive pigments. The pigments contained in rods is called rhodopsin, and is a rich red color.
When light penetrates a rod, it depletes the rhodopsin, sending a signal to the brain. Since light breaks down rhodopsin, this pigment must be continually replenished to keep the rods functioning. This is why we have problems seeing when we enter a dark room from bright sunlight. The rhodopsin has not had a chance to replenish itself.
Although our rods slowly become sensitive to dim light, some people have difficulty adapting to the dark. This condition is called "night blindness" and is caused by several factors. The most common factor is the body's incapacity to use or store vitamin A, which is necessary for rhodopsin production. For this reason, vitamin A is often prescribed for night blindness.

Major Senescent Changes
The two most frequent senescent changes are reduced visual acuity and prebyopia (the inability to focus on nearby objects). Other vision problems associated with aging include:

·the inability to see well in dim light

·the inability to distinguish colors in the blue-green range

·glare becomes increasingly bothersome

·difficulty in shifting focus quickly

·the narrowing of peripheral vision

These changes are caused by deterioration of the eye's structure and the rest of the visual system.
Aging causes the cornea (white outer portion) to thicken and flatten out which effects visual acuity and focus. Another problem can be a build up of fluid pressure within the eyeball, which can permanently damage the retina and optic nerve. This pressure build-up is often associated with glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness. Glaucoma is the "sneak thief of vision" because it seldom gives us early warnings. If caught early enough, glaucoma can be treated with special eye drops, medication, laser, or surgery. It is extremely important to be tested regularly in middle age and later life.
As we age, the muscles in the iris lose their elasticity and cannot open the pupil wide enough in the dark to allow sufficient light to enter through the pupil. As we age, we need 70 percent more light in order to see well.
My interests and research into how our vision works stems from my experience as an electrology teacher. I have encountered many students suffering from vision problems. In addition, I have received requests from practicing electrologists for information on the visual problems we encounter in our profession. I have concluded that if the student/electrologist has had a recent eye exam and is still experiencing vision problems, then it is imperative to search for an answer in the electrolysis treatment room.
Before investing in expensive equipment that may limit your field of view, try a bright work light and be alert that you may not be working within the full focus of your lighting equipment. Be careful not to shadow the area you are treating by positioning your body incorrectly. I have had a 99.9 percent success rate in helping others overcome vision problems simply by recommending a brighter light.

Ann O'Brien received her B.A. from the University of Baltimore. She obtained her technical training in electrology from the Cowan Institute in Boston. She acquired her instructor's license to teach electrology in 1977 and has taught clinical electrolysis for the University of Maryland, Conference and Institutes Division and Essex Community College, Health and Educaion Council. O'Brien is a renowned lecturer and educator for SCME. She has delivered lectures throughout the U.S. and has been retained to lecture in Kenya and Australia.

References Belsky, Janet K. The Phychology of Aging, Brooks/Cole Publishing Company 1990. Wortman, Camille B. & Elizabeth F. Loftus. Psychology, Alfred A. Knopf 1988.

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