Is it truly possible to improve eyesight through eye exercise programs?
December 21, 2004 10:02 AM   Subscribe

On my way home from work yesterday I noticed an ad for which claims that you can "get rid of your eyeglasses for life without laser, surgery or drugs and save thousands on laser costs!" [+]

Word of caution, the site is atrocious and before you can download their software you have to register (which I didn't do).

Having somewhat bad eyesight myself, I always hoped that I could get out of glasses at some point, but the thought of laser eye surgery makes me a little uncomfortable (even though I know a few people who have gone through it successfully).

Even still, I usually prefer more "natural" solutions (within reason) to certain health-related issues, but I never considered it for poor eyesight.

I was just wondering if anyone knows more about this? Have experience with it? Is it completely bogus (as I suspect)?
posted by purephase to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Apart from anecdotal evidence, I haven't yet heard anything positive about the efficacy of eye exercise programs for treatment of focal problems.

Chances are it's snake oil.
posted by majick at 10:08 AM on December 21, 2004

I heard a story from some major magazine, about an eye doctor who trained his patients to see better sometime in the early half of last century. I can't remember only the fact he had patients staring and focusing for hours at objects which supposedly corrected their vision. I remember thinking it was stupid but I have heard nothing of it sense. It was in a major publication if that leads to credence.
posted by geoff. at 10:12 AM on December 21, 2004

Best answer: This QuackWatch article explains why it's bogus.

There are some vision problems that can be addressed through exercise ("lazy eye" and some focusing problems that are related to muscle strain), but nearsightedness/farsightedness/astigmatism are not among them.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:17 AM on December 21, 2004

There's an article about William H. Bates, the man behind this process, in the fantabulous People's Almanac.

Long story short: he was a quack. He had "early success" only in the sense that his methods became popular and schools of his techniques sprouted up, but then when the process didn't work the schools closed down and the methods were no longer popular.

That's why it's just "early" success and not success that still exists today!

Read this for more information.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2004

One interesting point...

Aldous Huxley, of all people--maybe the most cynical of writers--was a huge Bates proponent. He was born with very bad eyesight, and actually wrote a book called The Art of Seeing on how he claims to use the Bates method to correct it.

Generally, though, the whole approach has been thoroughly discredited.
posted by LairBob at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2004

You might be interested in corneal reshaping. Basically, you wear specially designed hard contact lenses at night for a couple of weeks: they actually alter the shape of your cornea. After the initial reshaping period, you have to wear them occasionally to maintain the shape. There's a Slashdot discussion, with lots of links and anecdotes, here.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2004

The Art of Seeing has been on my bookshelf for a long while, and I just recently moved it to the top of my reading list again. The author, Aldous Huxley, swore by the Bates method his entire life, after using to recover sight after a period of near blindness.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 10:54 AM on December 21, 2004

It's bogus. I have a friend that tried eye exercising for about a year. He got slight improvement, but not enough to even change his prescription.
posted by mathowie at 10:57 AM on December 21, 2004

Aldous Huxley couldn't see well, though, even after using the Bates Method. Huxley's eye problems were primarily caused by the disease keratitis punctata--he may also have suffered from severe astigmatism and eye strain.

The Bates Method may have helped resolve his eye strain, which would certainly have produced a noticeable improvement in his overall vision. But it could not have helped with either keratitis punctuata or astigmatism.

If one's vision problems are a result of eyestrain or focusing problems related to the eye muscles, then the Bates Method or any other method of eye exercises might help. However, no method of eye exercises can address malformations of the cornea, let alone degenerative diseases of the eye.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:06 AM on December 21, 2004

Response by poster: First off, thanks for all the information. I was pretty sure that even if it marginally "improved" your eyesight, it probably would not have lasting effects, or be particularly effective with my prescription (-8.00 diopter).

I have looked into corneal reshaping before, but again, I've been told that if you're above -3.00 diopter the likelihood of achieving anything near 20/20 is next to impossible.

It's no so much that I'm against glasses (I think I look better with them) I just like thinking that I may be able to toss them aside at some point of the future and not run into something sharp immediately afterwards.
posted by purephase at 11:36 AM on December 21, 2004

I occasionally see ads for the "see clearly institute" on late night television. Mariette Hartley talking about how her son did the program and now doesn't need glasses. Here's a little more info on it.
posted by milovoo at 11:37 AM on December 21, 2004

Perhaps it's snake oil, but two questions remain perpetually unanswered by the opthalmological establishment with their "quack-like" theories of eyeballs getting out of shape because of growth spurts, or their "permanent crutches" method of curing those with ailing eyes.

1) Why is the correlation of near-sightnedness so surprisingly high for things that are behavioral or environmental in nature? Namely, chances of near-sightnedness goes up drastically the more college educated a person is, or if they work indoors (um, computer geeks, anyone?), or has a job/hobby of heavy reading and close focus. Watching 7 hours of tv a day or spending as much time sedentary in front of a computer can't be good for our eyes- any more than it's good for our asses. Cultures that aren't as modernized show far lower rates of myopia, to the point that 60-something people have superior eyesight to many 20-year-olds who IM all night long.

Consider also that we'd never consider it quackery to suggest that loud music and loud conditions could cause ear strain- potentially even irreversible hearing loss- but somehow we're to believe poor eyesight is not only uncorrectable once it happens- it's unpreventable to begin with. No eye doctor I've been to in the years since I began wearing glasses as a child ever once suggested how I could stem the decay of my vision, or even asked what I did that might cause eyestrain.

The eyes are a muscle. We know what happens when muscles are underused or poorly maintained.

2) If myopia is genetic- har har- then why did evolution spend millions of years developing the eyeball in all manner of creatures, great and small, only to have mankind alone among creatures be afflicted with rates of myopia nearing 40% in the modernized world? If our eyes were so fragile, how on earth did we survive to the present day? As a myopic person, I find it hard to navigate the sidewalk without my glasses- feeling awkward, unsafe, and limited in what information I can gather by sight. Somehow this genetic quirk is as common as it is, but we gracefully moved past the whole "out in the wild" period of human [pre]history? Wouldn't a myopic peoples, without access to prescription lenses, have been wiped out by countless wars or wild animals or just tripping over rocks? As genetic anomalies goes, myopia should have been among the rarest of conditions, considering how strongly it would correlate against survival for the vast portion of all human and primate existence.

So yes. Perhaps, again, there is nothing to cupping your hands over your eyes. But the "solution" provided by glasses, contacts, or now Lasik, seems classically American: it neither addresses nor even acknowledges the root causes.
posted by hincandenza at 12:45 AM on December 22, 2004

Response by poster: hincandenza,

Interesting points. I found a few links on MadSci network (hideous page, not sure about the legitimacy of the site considering the image on the front is of a cat with a sock on it's nose.. maybe I'm missing something).

One of the posts states that myopia and/or the need for glasses did not exist until nearsighted-ness was an asset (reading primarily). It stands to reason that the decline of more primal instincts necessary for survival (sight over distance definitely being on that list) could account for the enormous increase in "poor" eyesight. That being said, from an evolutionary standpoint, and in particular genetics, in our modern world myopia could strangely be considered an asset since nearsighted-ness is required in our society.
posted by purephase at 7:46 AM on December 22, 2004

Of course you can "get rid of your eyeglasses for life without laser, surgery or drugs...". Just toss them in the trash can.

No one said you'll be able to see anything, though.
posted by 4easypayments at 8:37 AM on December 22, 2004

Some years ago I asked a friend who was an eye doctor about the Bates method. He commented that in theory, some of the ideas sounded reasonable, however there was a difference between reality and practice. He encouraged me to try out the exercises if I was interested, but to get my eyes tested beforehand so I'd have a clear basis for comparison. He said that he had several patients who had tried out the exercises and felt they'd gotten improvement, but before and after testing showed that their vision had not actually changed at all. At the time, my vision was pretty good, so I didn't bother with attempting the exercises.

hicandenza - my friend does credit long hours at the computer screen with causing deterioration of eyesight. I can imagine a few reasons why the cause and cure might not be symmetrical though. Perhaps the damage is done through such a high number of hours spent reading/staring at computer screens/watching tv that few people can ever spend the same number of hours doing eye exercises. Perhaps as we get older, our eyes become less able to adjust shape, so any unhealthy changes made during a youth of reading are not reversible.

I wonder if myopia is not correlated not only with reading/computer use/tv watching, but also with city dwelling. I've noticed that daily life in the city provides few opportunities for focusing the eyes more than a few blocks away. When visiting Idaho the other year, in contrast, I was constantly encountering beautiful vistas that stretched out for miles and miles. Perhaps it's a combination of a lifetime spent focusing up close with few opportunities for focusing at a distance. Any know any sources to confirm/disprove such a correlation?
posted by tdismukes at 9:03 AM on December 22, 2004

I have, in my life, worked with opthalmologists on eyesight issues related to eyestrain and other muscular problems ("lazy eye" in childhood and continuing focus problems as an adult). There are exercises that help that, and I notice improved and more comfortable vision when I'm "good" about doing my exercises and looking out for my eye ergonomics.

However, the exercises don't make me less nearsighted; I'm still as nearsighted without my glasses as I was when I was a toddler. I remember the first time I put glasses on and realized that most people could see leaves on the trees, not just a green haze.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:05 AM on December 22, 2004

So, purephases' links seem to support my notion. It *is* environmental- which to me says it's preventable. Which, while you folks are, the opthalmological community doesn't seem to want to confront.

tdismukes raises an interesting point as well: I find that sometimes I"ll be sitting there, and I'll suddenly feel suffocated by my glasses, my eyes and face physically hurting from wearing them. Aside: it's like an extreme version of the weird feeling you get when you first get contacts, and then try your own old glasses on- you can actually *see* in focus, but your head really hurts when you do that.
Anyway, I'll yank the glasses off, and feel relieved all of a sudden, like a weight has been lifted, and my eyes *feel* like they're stretching out.

I notice this most on the bus ride to work, crossing the 520 bridge when suddenly I can look out the window, over Lake Washington, to an uninterrupted view of Mt. Rainier miles and miles away. When I look that far distant, my eyes seem to suddenly scream that the glasses HURT. And I've been noticing this for a few weeks now, and am starting to ride the bus with my glasses off, concentrating on not focusing, trying to relax, to look off in the far distance because it's strangely calming... and sometimes the world seems a little sharper, clearer, etc.. So I'm starting to think, especially with my skepticism, that there could be a way to recover vision....
posted by hincandenza at 2:31 AM on December 23, 2004

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