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Posted on 08-07-2013

Originally posted on May 29th, 2012

Lenses – Part 3

What is visual stress?

Prolonged close work is stressful to the human visual system.  A.M. Skeffington, a founder of the behavioral philosophy of vision care, referred to prolonged close work as biologically unacceptable and socially compulsive.  Our visual systems are action based systems.  Movement is a critical ingredient in human development and development of the visual process.  The primary purpose of the visual process is to direct action.  Sitting in a chair (or whatever) reading or looking at a computer doesn’t really qualify as the kind of action we need.  Our visual systems are also designed for three-dimensional interaction.  Again, reading and computers just don’t cut it – they are two-dimensional.

Lack of meaningful movement and two-dimensionality add up to an unpleasant state of affairs for the human visual system.  Clearly modern humans cannot expect to get the most out of contemporary life without spending a significant amount of time reading.  This seems to be more and more important in the computer age.  While the internet has made it incredibly easy to find information on any topic, once you find it you still have to read it.  Add to this the growing popularity of iPads, smart phones, texting, etc and the stress on our visual systems will only increase.  We are not going to decrease the visual demands of our world but we can limit the negative visual consequences by using lenses for protection and prevention and vision therapy to “beef-up” our visual abilities.

The human visual system was not designed, nor does it take very kindly to prolonged reading. 

Some people become symptomatic and/or aware of the stress on the visual system caused by chronic reading more than others.  Most of us are familiar with carpal tunnel syndrome.  Tendon inflammation can result from repetitive work, such as uninterrupted typing.  Many people who type for a living don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t stressing their wrists, it just means that they didn’t become symptomatic.  They might at some point and they might not.  Reading is a kind of repetitive motion to the eyes and the brain.  The stress created by chronic close work is a major cause for the need to wear compensating lenses.  Therefore compensating lenses should be considered a last resort, not the first thing to try.

The inherent biological stress of chronic close work is further complicated by the presence of psychological stress often associated with our tasks.  Children are most often reading because someone requires them to do so.  Adults are very often under some level of stress related to the close work they are doing as well.  For children, the stress of pleasing teachers and parents; for adults, the stress of the job creates a conflict in the nervous system on a very fundamental level.  This particular aspect of stress can create havoc in the visual system.  Again, not everyone responds to stress in the same way or to the same degree.  It is usually not obvious that there is a problem.  There isn’t always a sign like headaches, eye aches or blurry sight especially in the early stages of trouble.  I have seen people that just pushed and pushed their their visual systems without noticing any problem until one day, sometimes after decades of visual abuse, they became symptomatic in their forties, fifties, even sixties.

Lenses provide a safe yet powerful means of influencing human behavior on many levels.

There is a sense that optometry, as a whole (and certainly ophthalmology), is convinced there is nothing more to learn about the art of prescribing lenses.  This is due, at least in part, to the fascination with new technologies – from contact lenses to corneal reshaping, surgically or otherwise.  These are all exciting innovations but they should not be tried before a more dynamic, functional approach to vision care is attempted.

Most optometrists seem content if the patient can read the bottom line on the chart regardless of other issues.  There are other ways to use lenses as a positive influence on the visual system and not just a crutch.

Lenses are a type of medicine according to the formal definition of medicine.

Lenses are a type of medicine (Medicine n. 1) any substance, drug, or means used to cure disease or improve health) even though they are not taken internally.  They can promote changes in behavior, or affect the way one feels.  Appropriate near lenses can promote positive changes in school performance and work performance as well as overall behavior in some children.  These lenses are referred to as stress-relieving lenses or counter-stress lenses.  Most providers of eye care know nothing about stress-relieving lenses or why to use them.  Only behavioral optometrists have taken an interest in using lenses in a dynamically positive manner.

Therapeutic lenses can also bring about changes in a person’s level of comfort by eliminating symptoms like eyestrain, eye pain, or headaches.  Lenses can definitely reduce visual stress, prevent visual deterioration and promote positive development of the visual process and therefore the person for many years.  There are other things that can reduce visual stress like taking frequent little breaks (looking out a window is best), maintaining good posture and lighting, but these things are not always possible.  There is no substitute for stress-relieving lenses.

The bottom line is don’t settle for lenses that simply mask an inconvenient symptom and make your eyes weaker.  Go and find a behavioral optometrist who will help move your vision in a positive direction.  You’ll be amazed at the difference lenses can make for you when they’re designed to improve performance and comfort and not just function as a crutch.

Next time: Lenses – Part 4  Progressive Bifocals: Vision Care Breakthrough or Visual Process Breakdown?

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