Why does the sun cause me to sneeze?

Why does the sun make me sneeze?Have you ever desperately needed to sneeze, but it just won’t come?  Did you look at the sun, or a lightbulb, and successfully sneeze?  Some would say “Yes!” and think fondly of how well that worked.  But for the rest of us, bright sunlight doesn’t affect us that way at all.

There is a name for the quirk that affects about a third of the population in the world today – Photic Sneeze Reflex.   It is a phenomena that has interested philosophers and scientists for thousands of years. Aristotle reasoned that the heat of the sun on the nose was responsible for the sneeze.  Some 2,000 years later, English Philosopher Francis Bacon de-bunked the theory by walking outside with his eyes closed – the heat was still there, but he didn’t sneeze.  The new theory became that the sun made the eyes water, which in turn tickled the nose and caused the sneeze.  Of course today, we know that our tear ducts work much slower than the millisecond it can take us sneeze when we are exposed to a bright light.

Today’s generally held belief is that the wires in the brain get crossed, causing the photic sneeze reflex.  A sneeze is usually triggered by an irritation in the nose sensed by the trigeminal nerve.  This nerve is close to the optic nerve, which is what would sense a sudden bright light entering the retina.  As the optic nerve tells the brain to constrict the pupils, the trigeminal nerve mistakenly thinks the message is intended to indicate an irritation in the nose, and causes the sneeze.  It is amazing how much information fires from our nerves through our brain and back with unbelievable speed!

Because the phenomenon is harmless and not linked with any other medical condition, not much research has been fielded to study the reflex.  Luckily however, some scientists are interested in studying this because of the potential insights into migraine headaches and epileptic seizures.  Migraine sufferers often have photophobia, or an extreme sensitivity to light, and epileptic seizes can be triggered by flashing lights.  If scientists could learn more about the gene that causes the reflex, they may be able to learn something about the visual pathway and other reflexes that affect these diseases.  With very limited studies conducted, one thing we do know is that the trait is autosomal-dominant, meaning that the gene is neither on the X nor the Y chromosome and only one copy of the gene has to be present for the person to have the reflex.  If you have it, it is likely that half your children will too.

The best news is the simplicity of the cure!  All you have to do to negate the reflex is put on sunglasses before you go outside!  For all your eye protection needs, visit us at Shofner Vision Center.

Posted in Eye Health, General

Sports and Eye Injuries

soccer-team-webIt’s fall in the South, and that means fall sports!  Football, soccer, field hockey, baseball, cross-country, wrestling, and the list goes on!  With so many people participating in fall sports, it is important to keep some eye protection tips in mind.  Sports cause more than 40,000 eye injuries each year, and 90% of those injuries could have been prevented with proper care and equipment. Basketball causes the greatest number of sports injuries, followed by water sports, baseball, and racquet sports.

The most common types of eye injuries are blunt trauma, penetrating injuries, and radiation injury from the sun.  Blunt trauma happens when something hits you in the eye and is the most common eye injury cause by sports.  If you have had a black eye, you have experienced bruising of the eye and eye lid, which looks ominous, but is usually not a serious eye injury.  More serious blunt trauma injuries include a detached retina, a ruptured globe (broken eyeball) and an orbital fracture.  Examples of a penetrating injury are being poked in the eye with a finger or object, such as the shuttercock of a badminton set.  Radiation injuries involve burning of the retina by the sun’s rays and is most common in summer sports such as skiing, swimming and water polo.

So how do you protect your eyes?  First, be sure you wear the proper eye protection while playing sports.  Polycarbonate lenses are impact resistant and come in both prescription and non-prescription varieties.  These are your best line of defense.  It is a common belief that wearing a helmet will protect you from all kinds of head injuries, but they don’t cover the eyes, the often-overlooked area vulnerable to injuries.

Less serious injuries generally do not require a doctor’s visit – the team coach can usually make the call on continuing in the practice or game, or not.  But if you have a serious eye injury, you should quickly be examined by a licensed ophthalmologist, such as Dr. Stewart Shofner.  Dr. Shofner is an avid sports fan, and will provide your eyes with expert care.  It won’t be long, and you will be released to the sport you love when your eye is healed, and your vision is back to normal.

Posted in Eye Health, General

5 Great Reasons to have your Eyes Corrected with LASIK

Shof-clea-gla-esMillions of people all over the world suffer with poor vision.  Are you one of the people that either spends money month after month on contacts, or spends time each day cleaning and re-cleaning their glasses, not to mention has to remember where you put them when you take them off?  For so many people LASIK vision correction is the answer to their vision problem.  If you are considering your options, here are our top 5 reasons to call us for a LASIK consultation today:

  1.  You will see clearly!  For many of us, waking up in the morning means stumbling around to find your glasses or get your contacts in.  How wonderful would it be to wake up and be able to just see?
  2. You will increase your eye comfort!  People that wear contacts often complain of itchy eyes, allergies and irritations.  People with glasses may suffer from headaches from too much pressure or a prescription that is not quite right anymore.  Since your vision deteriorates so slowly, it can take time to realize that you are just not seeing as clearly as you did, even with your contacts or glasses.
  3. Very little downtime!  For most, recovery time is a matter of hours, not days or weeks.  And many experience even better vision than their corrective devices afforded them.
  4. LASIK pays for itself by eliminating the need for repeat purchases of contacts and glasses.  Some insurance plans will pay for some or all of your surgery, and pre-tax dollars put into Flexible Spending Accounts may allow you to use the funds for your surgery.
  5. Dr Stewart Shofner is a renowned opthamologist who has successfully performed over 30,000 LASIK surgeries, giving people in Middle Tennessee and across the country the gift of clear vision. You can trust your eyes to him and his experienced staff.

Call Shofner Vision Center at615-340-4733  and schedule a free consultation.  You will be glad you did!

Posted in General, LASIK/PRK

The Quick Healing Eye

heal-ey-02If you’ve ever been at the beach and had a grain of sand or dust blow into your eye, and you rubbed it to get rid of it, you probably made it worse and scratched your cornea. A corneal abrasion is very painful and causes your eyes to water, and sometimes burn. But the good news is that our eyes are some of the quickest healing tissue in our entire bodies. Some injuries heal in just hours, where a scratch on the skin will take days to heal at best.

The cornea is the clear, protective lens in front of the iris (the colored part of the eye) and the pupil (the black circle in the middle of the eye). A corneal abrasion is a scratch on the cornea, and it can be caused by a whole host of things:

  • Being poked in the eye, with a fingernail, pen, make-up brush, etc
  • Dirt, ash or sand blowing into your eyes and getting trapped under the eyelid
  • Chemical burns
  • Poor fitting or dirty contact lenses
  • Some types of eye infections

The issue is that symptoms of an abrasion may take a while to develop, so you may not know what actually caused the problem. The first instinct when symptoms do appear is to rub the eye, which of course should be avoided. Instead, try blinking a lot or rinse the eye with clear water. If you still feel like something is caught in your eye, see an eye doctor as soon as possible.

Now, how does that eye heal so quickly? The reason for the rate of healing is the type of cells that make up the outer-most layers of your eyeball. When your eye is scratched, a layer of cells is actually scraped away from the surface of your eye, and has to be replaced with new cells. Lucky for us, the surface of your eyes consist of living cells that have the ability to rearrange themselves and migrate to where the cells are missing. This is different from a scratch on your arm, for example. The outer layers of skin on your arm consist of non-living cells, layered 3 or 4 cells deep. Because these top layers are already dead, they can’t move around and you have to wait for new layers of cells to work their way up to the surface (by sloughing off the dead cells over time) for the healing to take place.

Your eyes are incredibly valuable and should be treated with care and professionalism when any issue occurs. Rely on the experience and expertise of Dr. Shofner and his staff to care for your eyes and ensure the best vision possible for as long as possible.

Posted in Eye Health

The Muscles of our Eyes

shofner-eye-boy-muscMost of us know that we need strong muscles to be able to function well in every day life.  They help our bodies move, and allow us to perform normal, every day tasks like dressing, cooking, driving, and more. But did you know that your body is made up of approximately 700 named muscles?  Let’s take a look at the muscles that help your eyes work their best.

The eye muscles are the fastest reacting muscles in the whole body, contracting in less than 1/100th of a second.  The synchronized tension of the muscle group that allows for clear vision is fascinating.  The eye muscles work together to carry out no less than seven coordinated movements, allowing the eyes to track many different kinds of moving objects.

Each eye is held in place by three pairs of extrinsic muscles that constantly balance the pull of the others. The superior rectus acts to roll the eyeball back and up, but it is opposed by the inferior rectus. In the same way, the lateral rectus pulls to the side, while the medial rectus pulls toward the nose, and the two oblique muscles roll the eye clockwise or counterclockwise. All of these muscles are working together simultaneously to move your eyes in unison. No wonder your eyes get tired at the end of a long day!

Tremor, drift and flick are types of movement that result from the constant, opposing muscle tension of your eyes.  Tremor causes an almost unseen trembling of a point image, and drift makes the image move slowly off-center.  Before the movement becomes noticeable, there is a quick flick to bring the image back to center.  These constant, tiny movements ensure that the image you are seeing constantly moves over unused parts of the retina, and that the receptors at any spot on your eye don’t get overloaded with images.  The result is clear vision.

Your eye uses smooth pursuit movements to follow objects at high speed, such as word to word or line to line when reading.  Another eye movement is called vergence.  It helps the eye turn inward to direct the images directly onto small, rodless areas of the retina.  Your brain registers the amount of distance and uses it to estimate the distance of the object you are looking at.  And while all this is happening, the intrinsic muscles of the eye are focusing the eye and dilating the pupil to control the amount of light that enters.

Your eye muscles work as a synchronized team to produce clear and accurate vision.  Keep your eyes working their best with an annual visit to Dr. Shofner’s hard-working team of eye professionals.  They will inspect the eyes, and recommend solutions for any vision issues to ensure you see well for as long as possible.

Posted in Eye Health, General

Do you really eat with your eyes?

Eat-with-your-eyesOur eyes are such an essential part of our daily lives, but in more ways than you may have even thought about.  For instance, your eyes largely influence how your brain responds to food – you really do eat with your eyes first.

Studies have shown that how food is presented, including the color of the dish it is served on, can influence your perception of the taste of the food.  A recent study, conducted by Polytechnic University of Valencia and Oxford University (published in the Journal of Sensory Studies) found that hot chocolate served in an orange- or cream-colored mug made the beverage taste sweeter and was found to be much more aromatic. The study also found that strawberry mousse tasted better served on a white plate than on a black plate.  There doesn’t seem to be a rule about the specific colors that make food taste better – it is just important to give your eyes something appealing to digest first, and that means using colors that make the food stand out.

Of course the food industry has known this fact for a very long time.  The fact that a well shot food product with the correct lighting, background and accent pieces can actually make you want to go buy that food is testament to the power of our eyes when it comes to our appetite. The best chefs put as much effort into “plating” the food, as they do preparing it. It is important to give your eyes something to absorb, so it can send signals to your brain to want that food.  Charlie Palmer, chef and owner of Aureole and the Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant in New York City says: “Everything looks better using brilliant white china.  With a bright white plate, the food really stands out, the colors are more vibrant and the food more appealing”.

Layering the food to draw the eye’s attention to the focal point of the dish is another commonly used technique.  Alex Guarnaschelli, acclaimed Iron Chef, author and restaurant owner, says: “I like to build a plate by layering all the components on top of one another.  It traps the eater into getting all the flavors in every bite!”  So if you have picky eaters at home, experiment with plating your food differently.  Try a different color plate or bowl, and layer the food so the protein is on top of the side dish for instance.

Keep your eyes and your appetite healthy with regular visits to your ophthalmologist.  Your stomach will thank you for it.

Posted in General

Summertime Eye Safety Tips

Summertime is here! Swimming, cookouts, outdoor concerts and festivals, and family get-togethers are all part of the fun of summer. Surprisingly, these activities include threats to your vision and eye health. Dr. Shofner offers these tips to help protect your eyes during these hot summer months.

  1. fam-swProtect your eyes from damage due to prolonged exposure to the sun. We remember to put on sunscreen and protect our skin from prolonged exposure to UVA and UVB rays that can lead to premature again and even skin cancer. Did you know, that you can also get a sunburn on your cornea? It’s called a corneal flash burn, or ultraviolet keratitis. Prolonged exposure to direct sunlight can cause this sunburn, as well as other concerns like pterygiums (additional “skin” growth on the eye). Dr. Shofner recommends wearing good quality sunglasses—specifically with polarized lenses, and if you are going to be outside for a long time, wearing a hat as well.
  2. Swimming is a key summertime activity but if your eyes hurt when you get in/out of a pool, it is likely that the chemicals are not properly balanced. Rinse your eyes with preservative free moisturizing drops, and if you do go back into the pool, wear a good pair of goggles that can protect your eyes from the unbalanced chemicals. If you are swimming in a lake, or the ocean, avoid wearing contact lenses. These waters are not clean and you run a higher risk of something getting stuck under your contact lens, and infecting your eyes. Again, swimming goggles can help here, but just take the contact lenses out before you swim!
  3. Beware of physical dangers to your eyes! Outdoor sports pick up in the summertime, with baseball, badminton, and tennis high on the list of things to do. Flying balls can hurt your eyes so wear protective gear, such as goggles, or at a minimum, good sunglasses. And think before you set out to mow the grass, or swing a hammer for that honey-do project you are finally getting around to. Debris slung out by a mower moves really fast – often too fast to see before you are hit by it. Wood chips, or mulch have sent many a person to the E.R. to remove the smallest of chip that has imbedded itself in the cornea.
  4. Leave the fireworks to the professionals! Despite strong warnings every year, the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that 8,500 people get hurt by fireworks every year, and 2,000 of those are eye injuries. Of the 2,000 eye injuries each year, one-third results in permanent eye damage.

Have fun this summer, but remember to protect your eyes along the way! Invest in polarized sunglasses that will keep the UVA and UVB rays at bay, protect your eyes from flying objects, and rinse your eyes with moisturizing drops as needed.

Posted in Eye Health, General

Custom Lasik: Means, Precision and Recertification

Twenty years ago, ablation to the surface of the cornea to correct a refractive error was a foreign concept to some, but, thankfully, not to all. Aren’t we glad to see the progress? Here we are, two decades later, with the development of further advanced technology allowing us to treat the steepest of corneas, correct life-changing prescriptions, and even eliminate an impressive astigmatism.

WaveScan WaveFront® System

WaveScan WaveFront® System

With the advancement of technology, comes the need for consistent training for Ophthalmologists and their staff. Training ensures up-to-date awareness of technology advancements, FDA approvals, and more. At Shofner Vision Center, we are glad to partner with Abbott for our WaveScan diagnostic measurements, and our VISX Excimer laser, as well as with Ziemer for our Femtosecond laser. Shofner Vision Center is happy to announce the recertification of all LASIK employees to perfectly utilize all three machines to give you the custom treatment you deserve.

iFS® Advanced Femtosecond Laser

iFS® Advanced Femtosecond Laser

The intense recertification process dives into the means of the technology and the precision of the instruments. For example, did you know that the same WaveScan technology we use for LASIK measurements is also used to enhance images taken from the Hubble telescope? Or the femtosecond laser pulses at the rate of one millionth of a nanosecond? What an amazing time of technology we live in!

With all of our LASIK employees certified to provide you with custom LASIK, you can be assured that Shofner Vision Center is the best place for your LASIK surgery.

Posted in General, LASIK/PRK

How Your Pet Sees You


Have you ever wondered how your pet’s eyes work, compared to the human eye? Have you gotten ready in the morning, and asked Max, your faithful Jack Russell, his opinion on how you look? Have you ever wondered why your beautiful gray kitty Bella never seems to hunt during the day? Here are some fun facts about your favorite animal’s eyes.


An old myth is that dogs are color blind. They do only have two color sensitive zones—yellow and blue—compared to the human eye which has three color sensitive zones—red, green and blue. The color vision of a dog is similar to a person that suffers from red-green color blindness. Red, yellow and green are perceived as one color. Blue and purple are perceived as a second color, and cyan and magenta are perceived as neutral or grey. But they do have better perspective and depth perception due to the placement of their eyes than humans do. It’s no wonder Buddy can catch that frisbee effortlessly!


Cats have even weaker vision than dogs during the day. They truly are color blind, and rely on scent and sound for their primary sensory detection. However, they have incredible night vision, allowing them to see at light levels six times lower than a human needs to be able to see. No night vision goggles needed for Tiger! Their eye lenses don’t change shape to compensate for seeing close up, so they see best at a distance of two or three feet, which is why they can catch mice in the dark. Not to mention, of course, leaving them at the back door for you to find the next morning!


Horses have bigger eyes than any other mammal living on land. Horses can see in color, but even more amazing is how a horse’s eyes work. Because their eyes are on the side of their head, their eyes can move independently. Horses have an amazing range of vision—Mr. Ed could see almost 360 degrees at one time! However, they can’t see RIGHT in front of themselves, which is why they often look down when they are walking, or at your hands for an apple.


With so many species of birds, it is not surprising to learn that many species see entirely differently. Pigeons can see millions of different hues, with an ability to see at least 5 spectral bands. They are considered to be the best at color detection ability of any animal on the earth. Feel like sending a message—pull your carrier pigeon out of his cage, and he’ll get that message where you need it to go, with no problem! He’ll be able to see every shade and hue to find his way, except for one. Owls are the only bird that can see the color blue!

Eyes are one of the smallest parts of our human bodies. Our eyes are only about an inch across, but compare that to a Colossal Squid, whose eyes are nearly 10 inches across! Our eyes feed information to our brains, which translate the information to pictures. It’s a good thing our brains are bigger than our eyes, unlike an Ostrich, which has it the other way around.

Our eyes are so complex, and made up of so many individual parts working together. Keep your vision clear, and your eyes healthy, with regular visits to your Ophthalmologist. Then, you can take Buddy out for his frisbee run, and praise Tiger for her catch, no matter how they see you!

Posted in General

Do You Have “Allergy Eyes?”

womain-allergy-eyes-webBlooming Dogwood trees, thousands of tulips at the Botanical Garden, chirping birds in the air.  Animals and people alike come out of hibernation and feel the wind in their hair and the sun on their face.  Ah, yes, Spring has sprung, and with the beauty of it all comes…aachoo!  Sneezing, head congestion, and itchy, red, watery eyes.  What could be better than seasonal allergies?  How about relief from them?

Seasonal allergies are often treated with antihistamines which block those nasty irritants we react to.  These are often given as oral medication by a primary care doctor, or as over-the-counter medication.  Although antihistamines can make us feel better, often times, they don’t relieve our “allergy eyes”.  “That’s because oral antihistamines work to dry up the excess production of mucous and liquid, so even your tears dry up”, says Dr. Shofner.

How can someone get relief from “allergy eyes”?  Firstly, try to avoid the exposure.  For example, staying inside where an air conditioner can filter out the pollen, or wearing sunglasses while outside to shield the eyes as much as possible.

Dr. Shofner reminds us that, “contact lenses don’t allow the cornea to breathe.  Contacts can trap allergens which then, in turn, stick to the surface of the cornea.”  Using only daily contacts gives you a fresh pair every day, and wearing contacts for a shorter period of the day is even better.

Continue on tear producing medication like Restasis, if you are already taking it.  If you aren’t currently taking any artificial tears, “start today,” says Dr. Shofner.  A word of caution on artificial tears, though—use a preservative-free drop.  These won’t irritate the delicate surface of the eye, and have a better balance to the ingredients.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can be prescribed as an eye drop to decrease inflammation and swelling associated with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis, and on a rare occasion, steroids may be needed.  The use of a steroid is typically prescribed for a short-time due to the effect on pressure, glaucoma, and cataracts.

If, after a few days of treatment on your own, the symptoms have not gotten better, it may be time to see your Ophthalmologist.  There could be a bigger problem than just “allergy eyes”.

Posted in Eye Health, General