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by W. Gifford-Jones, MD
A friend recently asked, “Giff, what’s happened? You’ve lost weight!” He was wrong, as my weight has remained the same for years. But this is not the first time this has happened. It’s because I’ve never liked dress shirts with tight collars. Loose collars exposing the neck convey the impression of weight loss. But surprise! They also help to protect wearers from glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness in North America.
While a student at the Harvard Medical School, I heard this story. A 55 year old businessman complained of headaches, blurred vision and a tingling sensation in the right ear. Harvard professors were not able to make a diagnosis. So he consulted doctors at The Mayo Clinic and famous Harley Street doctors in London, England. None could diagnose his problem.
Years later he was at a convention in Atlantic City. He needed a new shirt and walked into an unremarkable store and asked for a size 15. A young salesman suggested a size 16. Irritated, the man replied, ‘I’ve been buying shirts since you were in knee pants, and I want a size 15! The salesman replied, “That’s fine with me, Sir, if you want to suffer from headaches, blurred vision and a tingling sensation in your right ear!”
Tight collars are not hard to find if you watch television. The ones I often see are on overweight males whose necks are bulging out over their collars, and they look awfully uncomfortable. Snugness, whether in woman’s stockings or men’s shirts, is not a healthy habit.
A study in the British Medical Journal of Ophthalmology states that tight neckties increase the risk of glaucoma. Dr. Robert Ritch of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary several years ago agreed. He stated that tight neckties constantly pressing on the jugular vein increase intraocular pressure (IOP) which is one of the risk factors of glaucoma as this continual pressure destroys the optic nerve.
Other eye specialists point out that a false diagnosis of glaucoma can be made if a tight necktie is worn during an eye examination. But how many men wear shirts with tight neck collars? Dr. Susan Watkins at Cornell University reported that there are two chances in three that the neck size of a man’s shirt is too small, and his necktie too tight. Her study involved 94 white collar males. Researchers first measured the circumference of their necks with the collars buttoned and the ties knotted. The neck measurement was then repeated with the collars unbuttoned and the ties loosened. Watkins discovered that 67 percent were buying shirts with collars that were smaller than the size of their necks.
Dr. Watkins claims that this tightness is causing more than discomfort. It’s also triggering visual problems that can be scientifically proven. For instance, men were asked to tell researchers when a light, flickering at increased speeds, appeared to be constant. The tight collar wearers were found to have poorer visual discrimination those than those who purchased the right neck size.
I could not find any research that explained why so many males bought shirts with collars that were too tight. Maybe it’s a more macho look. But good sense dictates that the constant pressure on jugular veins impeding the flow of blood from the brain is not a healthy situation. Nor is it prudent to decrease the flow of oxygenated blood in carotid arteries to the brain. So my advice is to forget about Harvard doctors that are unable to make this simple diagnosis.
But if you need a new shirt and are in Atlantic City, seek the young salesman. I’m sure he will tell you that it’s prudent to be able to insert two fingers between the neck and buttoned collar.
But what about man’s best friend? How many realize that dogs can also develop glaucoma? Veterinarians at the university of Madison-Wisconsin reported that tight dog collars increased optic pressure. They too suggested the two-finger test and to remove your pet’s collar at day’s end. What’s good for humans is also good for dogs.