Many people who wear glasses (or contact lenses) to correct vision problems assume that they will always need them, unless they elect to have surgery. But there is actually an alternative to these treatments, and it’s growing in popularity.
Vision therapy originated with the work of William Bates, an opthalmologist practicing in New York City. Unlike his colleagues, Dr. Bates believed that vision problems were the result of stress – either physical or emotional – that caused the muscles around the eye to become tense. He developed special “exercises” to relax and strengthen the eye muscles, and in 1920 he published his theories and methods in a book entitled The Cure of Imperfect Eyesight by Treatment without Glasses.
Dr. Bates had his admirers, including Aldous Huxley, a writer who claimed that Bates’ techniques had cured his vision problems. But there were also critics; most opthalmologists believed (as they do now) that it was not stress but an abnormal curvature of the eyeball that caused imperfect vision. They did not feel that relaxing the eye muscles would change this curvature or help the problem.
Still, Bates’ ideas persisted, used largely by individuals on their own, and his book has remained in print. And today the field of vision therapy has developed and expanded, so that it’s now possible to work with an optometrist, who can treat you in their office and give you “homework” as well as track your progress. Some treatment plans even include eyeglass prescriptions that are adjusted as your vision changes.
Today’s vision therapy, while rooted in Bates’ work, focuses more on retraining your eyes and helping them “unlearn” unhealthy habits. It now includes techniques designed to improve coordination of one eye with the other, or both eyes with the brain. Current theory, which differs slightly from Bates’, is that the eye muscles are strong enough; they just don’t function smoothly, on their own or together. There are too many techniques to list here, but it is possible to find fairly detailed descriptions in at least one book.
Also, if you decide to work with an optometrist, you’ll find that your treatment plan will be customized to your individual needs. Do expect, though, to make frequent (more than once a week) visits to your optometrist’s office for a period of several months, and commit to doing your homework. The costs of the therapy will depend on several factors, including the office charges, any “props” you may have to purchase for homework, and the price of corrective lenses – which will probably have to be changed fairly often as your eyesight improves.
Theoretically, vision therapy can be used for any of the following difficulties:
– “lazy eye”
– reading, learning, or perceptual problems
– work-related vision issues
– poor athletic performance that is due to a visual problem
It’s really easy these days – and getting cheaper all the time – to have surgery to correct vision problems. But if you’re one of those people who find eye surgery unnerving, or if you would just like to try a more natural method, you may want to investigate vision therapy. It may provide just the help you need.