To See Or Not To See, That Is The Question (Not Really)
I am extremely nearsighted - have been since I was eight years old. My parents sought the best treatment by the best doctors. There was no internet back then, just literal word-of-mouth. Nonetheless my nearsightedness continued to get worse and worse for two decades. Today many parents are informed enough to know that the standard approach to treating nearsightedness is just not what they want for their children. They have found alternative options that appeal to their hearts and minds. I like to think that I am one of those options.
Lately I have been getting more and more phone calls and emails from parents who are concerned about a child becoming nearsighted. Four year olds, seven year olds, some older ones as well. These parents are looking for an alternative to the standard approach to treating myopia, hoping to avoid the all-to-common progression that tends to follow the first prescription for nearsightedness. The fact is that the percentage of people who are nearsighted is growing rapidly across the globe. And the standard approach itself is very myopic.
The common opinion among most eye care professionals is that nearsightedness is almost exclusively hereditary. They assume that once it starts it cannot be stopped and they are unconcerned when it worsens over time. Most behavioral optometrists are convinced that heredity is not nearly as critical a factor as environment. That is, visual stress – particularly stress on the visual system created by prolonged near tasks like reading and computer time. The response to this often results in adaptations and one of the most common adaptations to visual stress is to become nearsighted - or as behavioral optometrist Donald Getz termed “myoping”. Many behavioral optometrists think nearsightedness can often be prevented, slowed or reversed.
The real stress on the visual system emerges because there is some deficit in the way the eyes aim, focus and/or work together as a team. The brain, eyes and body look for a way to make life easier. Of course this usually occurs during the earlier school years. Put simply, giving up the ability to focus normally in the distance can often take away some of the stress of seeing properly close up. And what tends to happen next? There is a response to the result of the problem (inability to see clearly across a room) but typically not to the possible causes (reduced ability to aim, focus and coordinate the eyes).
The typical treatment, particularly in the case of a younger child, is a pair of glasses to make things clear in the distance. The child then continues to do the same thing she has been doing as far as aiming, focusing and eye teaming. Only now all this is being done with the new glasses on. The stimulus to reduce distance clarity starts again and the child needs stronger glasses.
One thing these children or their parents are rarely told is that wearing these glasses while reading books, doing schoolwork or at the computer will hasten the weakening of the eyes and the need for stronger glasses. These glasses are known to most of us as “corrective” lenses. They are nothing of the sort. The word corrective implies to me that the problem will be corrected and the need for the glasses will go away. These glasses are simply masking the symptom – poor distance eyesight.
Behavioral optometrists have a different response available in these circumstances. We try to uncover the causes of the myopic response and treat those causes more directly. Vision therapy to train the brain to use the eyes more efficiently, and proper lenses to reduce the stress on the visual system while doing close work can often help reverse nearsightedness. More importantly, this approach often leads to improvement in reading, handwriting and learning in general. There is much more to nearsightedness than meets the eye. Find a Behavioral Optometrist near you and learn more.