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Do you wish you had 20/20 vision? I have yet to meet anyone who wears prescription glasses or contacts and doesn’t wish they didn’t need them!
Turns out, you might be able to improve your eyesight without needing to revert to contact lenses or other eyewear.
Sadly, many people who wear glasses or contacts will need stronger prescriptions as vision slowly declines. But does it have to be this way?
While some eye health professionals insist that it is impossible to improve eyesight naturally, other experts believe that certain foods and practices can help you see better. Here’s what we know so far.
Are Glasses Prescribed Unnecessarily?
When my daughter was around four years old, she was diagnosed with mild vision problems.
She was devastated at the idea of wearing glasses, so I decided to research alternatives to see if any of them were legitimate. While I found a lot of conflicting information, I thought some of the methods were at least worth a try, and they certainly would not cause any harm.
One surprising piece of information I found was that glasses are often overprescribed to young children. One study found that nearly 20% of screened preschool children were prescribed glasses, while those screened by pediatric ophthalmologists recommended them to less than 2% of the kids. That’s a lot of young children wearing glasses unnecessarily!
After consulting with an eye specialist and determining that her vision did not appear to be getting worse without glasses, we decided to follow an eye relaxation and exercise program for a trial period to see if it would help her. Her vision (and her slight strabismus) improved, giving me hope that these natural methods were working.
What Causes Poor Eyesight?
Nearly a century ago, a breakthrough eye doctor named Dr. Bates believed that glasses and contacts only made vision problems worse. He founded the Bates Method, an alternative therapy that relied on eye exercises and relaxation. His theory was based on the idea that the muscles surrounding the eye can become unbalanced, causing strain that leads to vision problems.
However, many modern ophthalmologists argue with this idea, saying that it is the rods and cones in the eye that determine vision problems and that muscle tightness does not affect vision.
So what’s the bottom line? The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. While eye exercises might not help everyone with vision problems, there is new evidence that relaxation practices can help reduce eye strain due to increased electronic and screen use.
How Our Eyes Get Strained
In our modern lifestyle, we really put our eyes to work in unnatural ways. Here are a few things that can strain our eyes.
- Reading for long periods, especially small print.
- Use of dim or artificial light (or not enough exposure to natural light!)
- Spending a disproportionate amount of time looking at close-up print/screens/pictures compared to things at a distance.
It seems that these strain-related factors also contribute to poor eyesight. In countries like Japan, Singapore, and China, there is a high rate of vision problems in children. It is probably no coincidence that they also have a more intensive education system that focuses on reading small words at an early age. This leads to spending more time indoors studying with artificial light, rather than outside in natural light, which research suggests is important for protecting eyesight.
Researchers believe that the problem is environmental, not genetic. When people from these same ethnic groups moved to places like Australia or the US, their risk of vision problems decreased.
To help combat this widespread problem, scientists recommend taking ample time for breaks, as well as spending more time in natural light. While more research is needed to prove this, there is also speculation that countries that promote stretching and relaxation in elementary schools have lower rates of vision problems.
How to Do Eye Relaxation Exercises
Holistic eye doctors often suggest exercises to help strengthen and relax eye muscles to improve eyesight naturally and gradually.
So, how do you know if you’re relaxing your eyes properly?
We found a practitioner that suggested these relaxation exercises for our daughter to perform every day before school:
- Rub your hands together for a few seconds to warm them, then loosely place your hands over your eyes for 10-20 seconds.
- Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Rotate the upper body while swinging arms side to side, keeping hips stationary.
- Massage your temples and the back of your neck to loosen muscles.
- Trace a sideways figure eight with your eyeball while looking at a wall.
- Roll the eyes in circles in each direction.
- Place the eraser of a pencil on the nose, point the pencil at an object across the room and trace the object with the point of the pencil while keeping the eyes on the tip of the pencil.
Here are a few other exercises she can do at any time of day:
- Hold a pencil at arm’s length and focus on the eraser. Slowly bring it closer to the eyes until it is about 6 inches from the eyes, then slowly bring it back out to arm’s length. Keep the focus on the eraser the entire time. Repeat 6-12 times per day.
- Wear an eye patch on your better eye for about an hour a day to encourage the bad eye to communicate with the brain more effectively.
Though these exercises are not a replacement for modern eye care, they have helped our daughter to slowly fix her poor vision without the need for increasingly strong eyeglasses.
We also had our daughter wear blue-blocking anti-fatigue glasses any time she was looking at a screen to help reduce eye fatigue and strain. I now wear these any time I use a computer as well to help avoid any eye problems as I age.
How to Eat for Eye Health
Your diet plays a big role in eye health as well. Just like certain nutrients can support dental health, some particular vitamins and minerals naturally support the eyes.
Here are a few great nutrients that increase eye health:
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish and fish oil are great sources.
- Vitamin A. Think orange foods, like carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Lutein. Leafy greens, like kale and spinach, are best.
- Vitamin C. Get lots of hearty veggies like cauliflower, broccoli or even sweet yellow peppers to get a good dose. You can also supplement with vitamin C.
Resources I Found Helpful
For further reading, I recommend the books The Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses and Relearning to See.
We also used these videos to help correct my daughter’s strabismus in the beginning and teach her how to move her eyes correctly.
The Bottom Line of Eye Health
Our modern lifestyle contributes to a more rapid decline in eye health than nature intended. Factors like an increase in artificial light, TVs and computer screens, reducing stress, and a poor diet may all contribute to a decline in eye health.
Keep in mind that while reducing eye strain is great for your overall comfort, it might not always fix your vision problems. If you suffer from certain eye diseases like myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), severe vision loss or eye damage, cataracts, or macular degeneration, you’ll probably need glasses or contacts to correct the problem.
I am not a doctor and you should always do your research to see what works best for you. Visit an optometrist to receive regular eye exams and checkups to evaluate your eye health, and to see what they recommend for vision therapy.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Scott Soerries, MD, Family Physician and Medical Director of SteadyMD. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you or your children wear glasses? Ever tried anything other than the conventional methods to improve your eyesight?
- Barnes, J. (2011). Improve Your Eyesight: A Guide to the Bates Method for Better Eyesight Without Glasses. Souvenir Press Ltd.
- CHEN, Y. S., & YANG, L. H. (2007). The Classroom Illumination’s Influence to Students’ Eyesight [J]. Medicine Healthcare Apparatus, 8.
- Donahue, S. P. (2004). How often are spectacles prescribed to “normal” preschool children?. Journal of American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, 8(3), 224-229.
- Wimalasundera, S. (2009). Computer vision syndrome. Galle Medical Journal, 11(1).