This article is the first in an ongoing series about my vision improvement experiments, which have been going on for over two years now. Be sure to check out the other articles in the series:
My First Day Without Glasses
Myopia is on the Rise – Can I Reverse Mine?
What Eye Exercises Do I Do, and Other Questions
The Key to Natural Vision Improvement
Reducing Myopia With Plus Lenses
Day 72 Update on Natural Vision Improvement
My Eyesight Improved Since I Took Off the Glasses
Where to Buy Eyeglasses and Training Lenses
My Vision Improved to -2.50
Rejecting Medical Reality
2012 Vision Update: Way Better
Can you really improve your vision by removing your glasses and exercising your eyes? Ophthalmologists call it quackery, yet I have some good reasons to doubt them. To get closer to the truth, I will be testing this controversial idea over the next thirty days.
My experiment will work essentially like this: for the next thirty days, I will stop wearing my glasses and do some weird eye exercises dutifully every single day. I will test my nearsighted vision regularly and see if it changes at all. I don’t have any expectations going into this. I know that I’m testing a widely derided theory, and even if it’s true, it probably takes a lot longer than thirty days to make serious improvements. I want to see if I can improve my vision even a little bit, and whether I can stand to get around without glasses on for an extended period of time. My vision is not so bad that going without glasses is crippling, but it does make things harder. At the very least, I want to decide whether natural vision improvement is worth trying over a longer period of time, and whether I can stand to be unglassed for more than a few hours.
I’m about to embark on an experiment that will bring me close to the realm of pseudoscience. For a rational guy, this feels very strange. Yet I have good reasons to believe that the modern treatment of myopia might be flawed, if not totally wrong. I figure that the best way to find out is to test the idea. It poses little risk to my health to do so, especially when compared to a treatment option like laser surgery.
And now, more on the what, why, and how.
A brief history
I never wore glasses as a kid, and I had pretty good vision up through high school. My distance vision was slightly blurry during high school, but it was not disabling; I squinted a bit at the TV, but I got around comfortably, riding my bicycle in heavy traffic with no problems. I started wearing glasses in 2003 at the suggestion of an optometrist, and my vision has gotten worse almost every year since then.
I had always assumed that computers were the principal cause of the decline in my vision. When I was nine, my family bought a computer which quickly became the center of my life. I’ve been looking at a screen one way or another for many hours every day since then. As I noticed small changes in my vision through the years, it always seemed logical that it they were caused by the hours I spent focusing on a surface less than two feet away from me. I was not aware of any theories about what causes nearsightedness, but I suppose that whatever subtle experiences I had when switching from near work to distance vision over many years made me suspect the near work as a cause of blurry vision. This is hardly proof of the idea, but it does show that I had a suspicion about near work like reading or computer use contributing to myopia long before I needed glasses or even cared about the science of vision.
I visited an optometrist in 2003 because I had slight trouble reading road signs. I knew that my vision was not perfect, but it was good enough to drive. I just couldn’t make out some details from a distance. After years of fighting it, I resigned myself to the fact that I needed glasses and signed myself up.
My first prescription was something like -1.50 diopters in each eye. Glasses certainly brought the detail back into my life — I could see all the leaves on trees again! I asked the doctor if I would have to wear my glasses all the time, and he said “Of course! Why would you want to take them off?”
My vision took a sudden turn for the worse a few months after I started wearing glasses. I saw flashes of light and spots, and wispy dark things started crawling across my field of view. I practically ran to the nearest ophthalmologist. When I described my sudden symptoms, she let me in ahead of a long line of patients because she suspected an imminent retinal detachment. Thankfully that turned out not to be the case. She diagnosed me with floaters and said that our vision just changes from time to time and not to worry. Oh yeah, and keep wearing your glasses as usual.
I still have the floaters; they are a constant annoyance. In the beginning, I was seriously depressed at having these dark wispy things darting around my vision all the time. To mask the floaters slightly, I took to wearing sunglasses indoors (prescription, of course). That may have enhanced my coolness, but it didn’t make me feel a whole lot better about having an eye problem that no product or procedure could fix. While I cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between starting glasses and the onset of these sudden, dramatic vision changes, I’m pretty damn suspicious anyhow.
After the floaters incident, my vision steadily declined over the next six years. During my optometric exam each year, the doctor would tell me that I needed a slight change to my prescription — usually -0.25 diopters, but sometimes more. I would always ask why my vision kept getting worse and when I could expect it to stabilize; I feared becoming half-blind, stuck behind dorky coke bottle glasses forever. I was always told: nobody knows why vision changes. Nearsightedness is caused by an elongated eyeball, and there is nothing you can do to change the physiology of your growth. Except I knew for a fact that I had stopped growing by 10th grade. I actually had my growth plates measured in preparation for an orthopedic surgery, so it wasn’t an assumption.
If the rest of my body stopped growing long ago, then why were my eyeballs still growing? Could glasses or near work at least have contributed to the problem? It seemed like a reasonable question, but I was told in no uncertain terms that eyeglasses cannot make my vision worse, and that such ideas are total quackery.
The Bad, The Worse, and the Ugly
While I appreciate the sharpness that they bring to my vision, I hate wearing glasses. Didn’t I say that earlier? Well, it deserves to be said a thousand times. I hate the feeling of glasses on my head. I hate not having peripheral vision. I hate being aware of the frames around my eyes. I tried rimless glasses, but the edges refract light and are still detectable. I hate the plastic pads resting on my nose, and how greasy and slimy they become. I hate cleaning my glasses. I hate when they fog up. I hate worrying about keeping them safe from harm. I hate carrying around glasses cases and prescription sunglasses and managing all of these spring loaded boxes. I hate the high cost of glasses (How come you can buy anything with a positive diopter for a couple of bucks at Wal-Mart, but negative diopters must necessarily cost hundreds?) Eyeglasses are not a helpful tool that has become part of my body; they are an annoying intrusion on my body. I’m the kind of guy who hates to carry anything, including a wallet. In the summer, I don’t wear much more than shorts and a t-shirt. You can bet that I could never love glasses.
The alternatives to glasses are contact lenses and laser surgery. Both of these options suck.
I wish I was one of the many people who can wear contacts. I just can’t touch my eyes, though. This isn’t something that can be solved through trial and error, I suspect. I’ve tried for years to let the optometrist perform a glaucoma test on my eyes that involves a small plastic rod touching the surface of my eyes. Every year, I tell him that I’m not afraid, I know that my eyes contain no nerve endings, and I really, truly want him to do his job and test me. And every year, he is unable to complete the test. No amount of willpower can stop me from blinking before he can touch my eye with the benign instrument. I could have glaucoma and not even know it.
That unwanted sensitivity is just one reason why laser surgery is off the table for me. I doubt that they could get the eyelid spreaders in, even if they gave me valium. I would have to be put under with general anesthetic. Even then, I am wary of permanently altering the shape of my eyeballs. There are many reports of side effects that range from annoying — dry eyes — to disabling — like permanently screwed up vision. I know a friend of a friend who almost committed suicide because his laser surgery so destroyed his vision. I realize that these cases are rare, but it’s a significant enough complication — permanently worse! — that I’d prefer not to have surgery if I can avoid it. Besides, what if I had a successful surgery, but my vision still worsened over time? I can’t trust what the doctors tell me about whether it has stabilized or not — they already admitted that they don’t know what causes vision to change. What would be the point if I made it through surgery and then I still required glasses later on?
My own history already gives me good reasons to suspect that the modern methods of treating myopia might actually make it worse, or even be the cause of it in some cases.
Another observation I made — which I fully admit is inadmissible as evidence — is the great number of kids wearing glasses now. I mean, little kids. I coach Mite hockey once a week and I am shocked at how many children wear glasses, at ages younger than I ever remember.
When I was in third grade, there was exactly one girl in my class who wore glasses. It was that rare. She was one out of about seventy. When I look at my young hockey players, I see at least a dozen younger than seven who wear glasses. Could their ever-present GameBoys have anything to do with it?
One explanation might be that optometrists are overprescribing eyeglasses for today’s children compared to the early nineties. I don’t know. Again, I’m suspicious.
When discussing the natural restoration of vision, it’s hard to avoid the name Bates. William H. Bates published a famous book called Better Eyesight Without Glasses in 1920. A tremendous number of quackery claims are lobbed at Bates as well as his followers. And I don’t entirely disagree with them.
While I don’t have enough time to get into it here, there are serious problems with the way Bates conducted experiments when testing the theory that eyeglasses destroy vision rather than aid it. These are often cited as reasons why the theory is wrong. I just want to state that whatever the limitations of Bates as a good scientist, or even of his own hypotheses about the mechanisms that cause vision to decline, the idea that vision declines because of the way it is habitually used may still be true. I won’t let one man’s particular blemishes destroy the basic concept. More on that in future posts.
I have yet to hear a good explanation exonerating eyeglasses and near work as a cause of nearsightedness. I don’t even know if any long-term studies have been done. The glasses-approving ideas accepted by the modern ophthalmological establishment may be merely an entrenched orthodoxy with little actual proof behind it, just as the diet doctors tell us that saturated fat is bad for us while the total opposite is true (see Good Calories, Bad Calories for more on that one).
I already had one experience where the medical advice offered to me as the only possible option would have been expensive and destructive, and my own “natural” solution ended up working against all advice. If the doctors can’t say exactly why my vision has been getting worse or when it will stop getting worse, then they must not fully understand the nature of vision. And if they don’t fully understand that, then how can they be so confident that removing my glasses will do nothing to improve my vision?
I am not certain that they are right, so I will test it for myself. Unlike many medical tests, this one doesn’t involve ingesting strange new substances or taking a chance with my health on some unproven theory being right. The worst that could happen is I experience a month of blurred vision and I go back to wearing glasses. I almost added “and I would have some egg on my face,” but that isn’t fair. I’m not making any claims either way; I’m just testing an unproven idea at no risk to my health or life. To me, it’s not a waste of time. Both sides have believable arguments, and I want to get closer to the truth.
My Expectations During the Experiment
Perhaps living in a modern world where I earn my daily bread by dealing with ideas, safe inside buildings, rather than hunting and staring at long horizons, will necessarily result in nearsightedness. I realize that I may just have to accept the consequences of modern life and live with glasses.
I have realistic expectations about this experiment. I’m not counting on having a major change in my vision in only one month. At the very least, I will learn whether I can last even thirty days without glasses. Since I would need to spend a much longer time without glasses (if the theory is true) to really improve my vision, the first step is to see whether the theory might be valid, and whether I can make it through all that time without glasses. I’ve attempted this trial in the past, but wearing glasses is such a fully ingrained habit that I’ve never been successful in leaving them off for very long. I didn’t do too well in keeping up with the eye exercises that are recommended, either. Since I’m making this public, I’ll have a lot of pressure to keep my word.
Also, I want to see if any change in my vision does occur, however small. I will test myself regularly and post the updates right here on this blog. In future posts, I will also go into more detail about the exercises I will be doing, as well as what life is like for me during this experiment. People may be reading my words years from now, so I will be very careful about how I measure myself and how I draw my conclusions.
It is close to noon as I write this, and I just put away my glasses. Since I began wearing them, I have not spent more than a few hours without them, other than when sleeping. I would love nothing more than to throw them away and see naturally with my own eyes again. Whatever I end up learning, I’m glad that I’m trying it for myself.
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