3-D or Not 3-D That Is The Question, Part 2
And now for the exciting conclusion of this 2-D explanation of seeing 3-D and what to do when you have trouble doing it. In Part 1, we discussed the importance of effective eye teaming for seeing 3-D the way it was meant to be seen, whether in the movies or in real life. Strabismus is the condition where the two eyes are unable to present integrated signals and information to the rest of the brain and the body. Strabismus can be constant or intermittent. Strabismus often interferes with the ability to properly see in 3-D because the two eyes are unable to point at the same thing at the same time, either constantly or intermittently.
A significant percentage of the population is unable to appreciate 3-D. Not all of them have strabismus, but they do have some type of eye teaming problem. Since the recent wave of 3-D movies that began with Avatar and the attempt at 3-D television, we have learned that not only are many people missing out on the 3-D effect (even though they paid the 3-D prices to see the movie), but quite a few people reported feeling queasy or headachy after leaving the theater. Some even felt disoriented. These side-effects of prolonged 3-D viewing are the result of poor eye teaming. All of this is fixable though.
Some eye teaming problems are obvious. Most of us know or have seen someone who has an eye that appears to wander or constantly point in a different direction than the other eye. This is called strabismus or lazy eye. People with strabismus are often told that the only treatment is eye muscle surgery (strabismus surgery). This is untrue. In fact, eye muscle surgery has little better than a 50/50 chance of keeping the eyes straight for more than a few years, if that. Eye muscle surgery often requires multiple attempts just to keep the eyes looking straight. Having the eyes appear straight does not mean that they are working well as a team and allowing the person to see 3-D.
Parents are often scared and rushed into eye muscle surgery by doctors who insist there is no other way and that time is of the essence. Many parents have come to me for a second opinion after having been told that there is nothing wrong with their child's eye muscles, but that eye muscle surgery is the way to “fix” the problem. These parents found this “logic” hard to swallow.
There is another way that is safer, non-invasive and with a clinically-proven track record of over eighty years. Vision therapy, provided by behavioral optometrists, has helped countless people of all ages avoid eye muscle surgery. Vision therapy is a program of “brain exercises” (not eye or eye muscle exercises) and therapeutic lenses designed to train the brain to use the two eyes in a more integrated way. Eye muscle surgery results in scar tissue and damage to important muscle fibers that most surgeons seem not to know about. The scar tissue causes a permanent reduction of muscle movement. The important fibers that are damaged interfere with the muscle's ability to send signals to the brain. Vision therapy is designed to promote not just straight eyes, but eyes that work in a coordinated way that enables good depth perception and seeing in 3-D. Vision therapy does not damage eye muscles in any way.
Sometimes eye muscle surgery can be helpful because in some cases the eyes are so far out of alignment that eye muscle surgery is needed to at least get them close. However, eye muscle surgery works best when vision therapy is done after the surgery. Vision therapy after eye muscle surgery is critical if the two eyes are to work as a team. Good eye teaming is the best way to keep the eyes straight and working together. Behavioral optometrists throughout the world are successfully treating people of all ages with strabismus, usually without eye muscle surgery. We also have great success with those who have had surgery, but remain symptomatic nonetheless.
If you have trouble seeing 3-D find a behavioral optometrist first. Vision therapy doesn't work in every case - nothing does. Still, vision therapy is the safest, most effective way to achieve good eye teaming ability at any age. Chances are excellent that even if vision therapy doesn’t result in 100% improvement it will result in a significant increase in comfort and performance. It is unlikely that eye muscle surgery without vision therapy can match that, and eye muscle surgery is highly invasive and irreversible.
If you are already able to fully enjoy the 3-D experience of a great movie, consider yourself lucky…and pass the popcorn.
Next time: What Are Eye Exercises?