Eyesight and eye health is an interesting topic. Some eye health professionals would “swear on their license and burn it if I’m wrong” that it is impossible to improve vision naturally, and that only glasses, contacts or surgery can help poor eyesight (this was the attitude of the first eye optometrist we visited). Others experts say that there are some things that can be done to improve vision but that they take dedication and time.
Most people who wear glasses or contacts will eventually have to get stronger prescriptions over time as vision continues to decline. But does it have to?
Can Eyesight Improve?
I have yet to meet anyone who wears prescription glasses or contacts and doesn’t wish they had better vision. The idea of an alternative to glasses or contacts is definitely appealing.
I never bothered to research the validity of any alternative methods of improving eyesight until my own daughter was diagnosed with some mild vision problems and prescribed glasses. (I was the weird kid who always wished I needed cute glasses or colored contacts, but I always had great vision.)
My daughter was devastated at the idea of wearing glasses, so I decided to research alternatives to see if any of them were legitimate. As I expected, I found a lot of conflicting information, but some of the methods were at least worth a try, and they certainly would not cause any harm.
After reading a study by Vanderbilt University School of Medicine that was published in the Journal of the American Association of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus which showed that regular Optometrists prescribed glasses 35% of the time, while pediatric ophthalmologists prescribed glasses only 2% of the time because they recognized that glasses could actually make the problem WORSE, especially when used at a young age, I decided to get a second opinion from a specialist. (1)
I certainly didn’t want my daughter to face a lifetime of glasses, especially if they could actually make her vision worse over the long term!
After consulting with an eye specialist and determining that her vision did not appear to be getting worse without glasses, we decided to follow an eye relaxation and exercise program for a trial period to see if it would help her. Her vision (and her slight strabismus) have improved and continue to do so. I plan to post her vision test results before and after once we’ve fully improved her vision.
Eye Exercises for Relaxation
While researching, I read of an eye doctor, Dr. Bates, who over 90 years ago wrote of natural ways to improve eyesight and was infamous for smashing his patients’ glasses on an anvil in his office so they would no longer wear them. I’m sure the glasses smashing didn’t do much for his popularity, but many patients flocked to him with the hope of avoiding glasses and he was convinced that with proper exercise and relaxation, eyesight could improve in some cases.
His theory was based on the idea that the muscles that surround the eye can become unbalanced and cause strain or even pull the eye to one side or another, leading to vision problems. Many modern ophthalmologists argue with this idea, saying that it is the rods and cones in the eye that determine vision problems and that muscle tightness does not affect vision, (though there is now some evidence that relaxation practices CAN help since increased use of electronics with screens is taxing to the eyes and does cause strain).
Strained Eye Muscles?
Logically, it seems that there could be a connection between eye strain or relaxation and eyesight, especially when we consider factors that can strain the eyes:
- Reading for long periods of time, especially small print
- Use of dim or artificial light or not enough exposure to natural light
- Tension or strain of the eyes
- Disproportionate amount of time spent looking at close up print/screens/pictures compared to things at a distance
Countries like Japan, Singapore, and China have high rates of vision problems in children, and they also have a more intensive education system that focus on reading small words at an early age. This leads to children spending more time indoors studying with artificial light, rather than outside in natural light, which research suggests is important for protecting eyesight.
A study by the Australian National University found that vision problems were very common in East Asian countries with as much as 90% of the adult population showing signs of nearsightedness. In Singapore, for instance, the country with the worst vision (by percentage) in the world, people from several different ethnic groups (Chinese, Indian and Malay) are impacted with vision problems at the same rate.
The ANU suspected that because residents of Singapore were impacted at the same rate, regardless of ethnic background, there was an environmental factor to blame. Looking at people from these same ethnic groups who had moved to places like Australia or the US showed that the increased risk of vision problems did not occur in other countries.
Researchers hypothesized that factors like earlier reading of small print, less exposure to natural light and more use of artificial light, and intense pressure to succeed all contributed to the higher rates of vision problems in these countries, especially in children.
These researchers suggested that providing children ample time for breaks and eye relaxation in natural light might help avoid some of these problems. I’ve also seen speculation that countries that prioritize stretching and relaxation in elementary schools have lower rates of vision problems. Anecdotal but interesting to consider.
Holistic eye doctors like Marc R. Grossman, OD of New Paltz, N.Y., suggest a more moderate approach that combines modern methods with eye relaxation exercises and supporting supplements. His approach uses the natural methods to slowly strengthen the eyes while weaning down the strength of the glasses.
Grossman also recommends exercises to help strengthen and relax eye muscles and gradually improve eyesight over time. We found a practitioner located within driving distance of our home who was trained in the same methods that Bates and Grossman recommend, and she suggested these relaxation exercises for our daughter.
We now all do these eye relaxation practices before starting school each day to help avoid eye fatigue and to help my daughter correct her vision:
- Warm palms by rubbing hands together for a few seconds and loosely place over eyes for 10-20 seconds to warm and relax eyes
- Stand with feet at shoulder width apart and rotate the upper body while swinging arms side to side (without moving the hips)
- Massage temples and back of neck to loosen neck muscles and relax forehead
- Trace the shape of an “8” on its side with the eyes while looking at a wall
- Roll the eyes in circles in each direction
- Place the eraser side of a pencil on the nose, point the pencil at an object across the room and trace the object with the point of the pencil while keeping the eyes on the tip of the pencil
- Hold the same pencil at arms length and focus on the eraser. Slowly bring it closer to the eyes until it is about 6 inches from the eyes and then slowly bring it back out to arms length- keep the focus on the eraser the entire time. Repeat 6-12 times per day.
- Wear an eye patch on the good eye for about an hour a day to encourage the bad eye to communicate with the brain more effectively (her trouble was on her left side and this seems to have helped her)
Though these exercises are not a replacement for modern eye care, they have helped our daughter to slowly work up to better vision without the need for increasingly strong glasses.
Eye Support from the Inside Out
Eye exercises support the muscles around the eye but just as certain nutrients can support dental health from the inside out, certain vitamins and minerals are naturally supportive of eye health.
We focused on increasing omega-3 and DHA rich foods like fatty fish and fermented cod liver oil (which is also a great source of Vitamin A- another important vitamin for eye health). We also make sure to consume a lot of lutein rich foods like leafy greens as well as foods high in Vitamin C (we also supplement with Vitamin C).
Resources I Found Helpful
When researching these methods of improving eyesight naturally, I found the books The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses and Relearning to See helpful.
We also had our daughter wear blue blocking anti-fatigue glasses any time she was looking at a screen to help reduce eye fatigue and strain. I now wear these any time I use a computer as well to help avoid any eye problems as I age.
We used these videos to help correct her strabismus in the beginning and teach her how to move her eyes correctly.
The Bottom Line of Eye Health
I don’t think that these natural ways of improving vision will work for everyone and they do require extra time and dedication, but after consulting with a specialist we decided to try these methods before putting our daughter in glasses for the rest of her life.
Like so many aspects of health, I suspected with eye health and vision, that many parts of our modern lifestyle contribute to a more rapid decline than nature intended. Factors like increase in artificial light, more time spent looking at TV and computer screens, more stress and fewer nutrients in diet may all contribute to a decline in eye health as well.
Do you or your children wear glasses? Ever tried anything other than the conventional methods to improve your eyesight?