Eyeglasses (or contact lenses) are so common these days that we hardly notice them anymore. Your child complains that she cannot see the blackboard or TV, you go to the optometrist and voila, she’s now wearing an ever-thickening pair of eyeglasses for the rest of her life. What happened? Most of our other body parts – ears, teeth, hair, bones – start to wear out much later in life except for our eyes. They seem to be falling apart at an earlier and earlier age. Let’s see why that is and what we can do about it.
Our eyes evolved in their current form at least 200,000 years ago, probably more. Since there were no books 4000 years ago and no phones, computers, tablets, game consoles, TVs just 60 years ago, we were used to seeing objects that are far away most of the time with some close up work of carving, painting, sewing and so on. As you probably already know and have experienced, our eyes are therefore most relaxed when we are looking far away and tensed when we are looking at objects close by. They are continuously adjusting to the distance of our view. Unfortunately, modern life is the exact opposite. We do close up work pretty much exclusively – phones, computers, video games, reading, writing and so on and very rarely look in the distance.
So let’s start with a hypothetical 7 year old girl and see what happens to her eyes. She is playing video games (besides reading and writing) for hours daily and one day, the tensed eye-muscles get locked into the close up mode. Objects far away become blurry. This condition is called pseudo-myopia which is a medical term for temporary myopia. The solution here is not to go to the optometrist but to change some of the (bad) habits. She needs to look up and out at a distance frequently for some time before going back to the close up work. It’s called the 20/20/20 rule. After every 20 minutes of close up work, look at objects 20 or more feet away for 20 or more seconds. This gives your eyes a chance to correct themselves and they will gladly oblige.
Unfortunately, her bad habits continue and the long distance vision is now continuously blurry. She can’t see the blackboard (Do they still use blackboards?) in school and so her parents take her to the optometrist. The doctor does a test of the long distance vision using a Snellen eye chart and gives prescription glasses with which she can see the smallest possible line on the eye-chart which is approximately 20 feet away. Now with these glasses, she can see that blackboard again. However, she is told to always wear them. These glasses are for long distance viewing but she is now doing most of her close up work for hours with them on. This is where the trouble starts! The glasses have one mission – to bring everything closer to your eyes – whether it is mountains, blackboards or an iPhone. And what happens when you bring a book, for example, very close to your eyes? Try it now – the letters become blurry (called hyperopia). To resolve this blurriness, her eyes now change their shape (elongate) in a process called accommodation so she can see these close up objects clearly. Her eyes are actually trying to fix the vision problem of blurriness. Unfortunately, she has just moved from the temporary condition of pseudo-myopia to a permanent (less temporary) condition called axial myopia or simply myopia or near-sightedness.
Her eyes have now adapted to see the close up objects clearly by changing their shape and she now continues her close up work with the glasses and elongated (and tensed) eyeballs. You can now probably guess where this is going? Yep, the bad habits continue and far away objects become blurry again. So the glasses that were used to correct the long distance vision have ended up causing the eyes to elongate and making them worse. This process continues and the prescription numbers keep increasing. While this is a problem in itself, at a certain point the eyeballs become so elongated that they are at risk of a condition called detached retina and loss of eyesight. Some studies indicate that even LASIK surgery does not exclude one from this condition since the shape of the eye is still elongated. In addition, strained eyes cause headaches and stress.
Now here’s the good news. Our eye prescriptions do not have to keep increasing. Not only can the process be stopped at any age, it can actually be reversed without any surgeries. As it turns out, our eyes, just like every other organ in our body, are capable of fixing themselves completely. How do I know? I’ve been working on reducing my own number (although somewhat intermittently) for the past 2 years and it has reduced by a decent 1.75.
So what’s the solution? For pseudo-myopia, as described above, adopt better habits, specifically the 20/20/20 rule.
For axial myopia, quit your job or school, move to a small village in Bali and do nothing other than stare at oceans, rice fields and coconut trees in the distance. What? Not practical, you say? Well alright, I’ll describe something else. After all, even after moving to Bali, it’s not so easy to eliminate all close up work anyway.
The solution consists of the following three steps or habits.
1) Use the lowest possible prescription that is comfortable for what you are doing: Let’s assume you have a prescription of -7.00 in both eyes.
a) You only need glasses with full prescription of -7.00 for very specific tasks like driving at night, deciphering the teacher’s cryptic handwriting on the blackboard, bird-watching etc. Wear them when absolutely necessary. For example, I almost never wear them. Sometimes you will look silly when you don’t recognize someone while they smile at you from a distance but looking silly once in a while is a good thing.
b) For most of the general purpose activities that you do at home or office (except for (a) above and (c) and (d) below) like cooking, eating, watching TV, and so on use a prescription that’s lower by 0.75 or 1.00. So in our example, use another set of glasses that are -6.00 or -6.25 for most of the day. These should be your default glasses.
c) For smartphones, video games, reading, writing, craft, puzzle solving and any other task that requires very close up and focused work, use another set of glasses with a significantly lower prescription, say 2.25 or 2.00 lower than the full prescription. So in our example, these glasses would be around -5.00 or -4.75. You will notice that you can still comfortably do these tasks with a much lower prescription. This is the single most important thing in this entire post that you need to do to get the benefits.
d) I’ve found computer work to fall somewhere in between all of these. Glasses which are 1.25 lower seem to work well but I don’t like to manage more than 3 pairs of glasses. So you could either increase the fonts and use the glasses in (c) above or just use the ones in (b). However, make sure to follow the 20/20/20 rule!
Note that all these lower prescription numbers are just guidelines. You will need to find your correct lower prescriptions for yourself based on what activities you do most. The higher the prescription numbers, the more lower (more difference) you can go in (b), (c) and (d) above and vice versa. Usually, we keep our previous prescription glasses anyway (or if you don’t, please start). So experiment with them on various activities and you’ll come up with the right prescriptions for you. Another way to get the correct differences for (b), (c) and (d) is to simply buy the cheap +1.00, +2.50 etc. reading glasses, put them over your current glasses and try the close up activities like reading and looking at a smartphone. So if your full prescription is -7.00 and you can do phone work or reading by putting +2.00 on top of your glasses, your prescription for reading is +5.00. Just remember the rule: use the lowest possible prescription that’s comfortable for the job at hand.
2) Active focus: Whenever you have time and are outside (or you can look out of the window), wear the glasses in 1)(b) above which are your default glasses anyway and focus on something like a tree or building that is far away. It will look blurry at first but if you focus, without squinting, it will start becoming clearer in 5 to 10 minutes. That’s all. This helps to both relax and guide the eyes into fixing themselves. Do it at least once a day as much as possible.
3) 20/20/20 rule: I’ll restate. After every 20 minutes of close up work, focus on something that’s 20 or more feet away for 20 or more seconds. Stop reading and try it now!
The first point might seem complicated, but once you get used to carrying and changing your glasses, it is not that hard. Just by doing that, you should at least notice that your number has stopped increasing and is slowly decreasing. If you do all three, you should definitely see a rapid reduction in the prescription. As your vision improves, you can use the glasses in (b) above for (a) activities, in (c) for (b) activities and so on so that you only need 1 new pair of glasses each time your vision improves. And I assure you, it’s a great feeling when you need to get glasses that are *lower* then your current prescription.
Also, I recommend printing out a Snellen eye chart – the same eye chart that the optometrists use – laminating it and putting it up on a well-lit wall in your house. This should cost about $2 dollars and half hour of your time to do. You can download the chart here: https://endmyopia.org/charts/. This way you can measure your eyesight anytime you want. That’s how you’ll know that your eyes are improving. Incidentally, you can also see how much your eyesight varies throughout the day and after various activities. It is usually best when you wake up and progressively gets worse as you do close up work. Also, after a vacation where you’ve hopefully stared at oceans, mountains and trees more than your phones and kindles, you’ll see a noticeable improvement in your vision. This clearly shows that our eyes are continuously adjusting to the activities we do and therefore, we can gently guide them towards lower prescription by changing our habits.
A few other things:
Getting lower prescription glasses is not rocket science. Try various prescriptions at the optometrist for reading, phone work etc. and see what works best. Remember the main rule, use the lowest possible prescription for the job at hand.
3) Can’t get lower prescription? In western countries like the USA which are considered to be the free world, it appears that optometrists will only fill out the exact prescription given by the eye doctor. However, you can always order glasses online by filling your own prescriptions (www.eyebuydirect.com and www.zennioptical.com).
So there you have it. Our eyes, just like all our other organs, can fix themselves. All we need is a different set of habits. This goes against what most optometrists and eye-doctors recommend. I don’t want to get into the politics of the issue but is it news to anyone these days that doctors overprescribe everything – from C-Sections, to dental work to MRIs, pills and surgeries – in both the western and eastern countries? Whatever your beliefs about the doctors’ motives are (follow the money!), hopefully you’ve got enough information here to get curious about this topic, especially if you have high prescription or your child’s eyesight keeps getting worse.
All credit for the above post goes to my friend Steven who opened my eyes (!) to this information when my eyes were hurting a few years ago. He pointed me to two sources that have a lot more information and should answer most of your questions:
Feel free to contact me with questions as well. If I know the answer, I’ll be happy to assist.