A 20/20 Look at Reversing Nearsighted Vision

As the myopia epidemic rapidly rises, is it time we give natural reversal methods a chance?

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The running joke for the new year is glass-wearing folks must be thrilled at finally seeing 2020.

This clever little pun has me contemplating the woes of myopic, or nearsighted, vision. For those like me, is our fate sealed forever — to be slaves to corrective lenses or shelling out thousands of dollars for refractive surgery? Is there no end in sight?

A closer look at the topic does give a glimmer of hope for the possibility of naturally and safely reversing myopia. However, eye care professions do not have a definitive verdict on this fact and it’s most commonly viewed as a gimmick.

The condition isn’t just a matter of the inconvenience of blurry distance vision on the quality of life. Nearsightedness tends to progress and high myopia, 20/400 vision, or greater than -5.00 diopters, increases the likelihood of sight-threatening conditions like retinal detachment or macular degeneration. Considering myopia is projected to affect 49.8% of the world’s population by 2050, is it time we view myopia reversal methods as a viable option to be recommended by eye care professionals?

Myopia is currently classified as incurable. Part of the reason for this classification is the initial researched evidence drawing a strong correlation to genetics as the cause. However, as Dr. Jeffrey J. Walline, associate dean for research at Ohio State University, stated in an interview with CNN on childhood myopia, “It seems to be increasing too fast to be explained by genetics.”

There are subsets of the population, particularly in East Asia, that show a substantial steep rate of increase in instances of nearsightedness. Myopia affects more than 50% of the population of countries such as South Korea, China, and Singapore. One study on nearly 24,000 nineteen-year-old males in South Korea concluded that the prevalence of myopia was 96.5%.

With such high rates of prevalence across the globe, environmental factors are gaining more emphasis. Researchers are acknowledging the intricate interplay between the genetic factors and environmental factors that cause myopia. Genetics gives a predisposition to the effects of external factors that contribute to the condition. Still, environmental factors seem to have a more profound impact on the development of myopia than previously believed.

The most significant environmental factor is near work. A peer-reviewed article analyzed twenty-seven studies conducted on the relationship between near work and myopia. “Near work was defined as the sum of activities with short working distance such as reading, studying, writing, doing homework, watching TV, or playing video games, etc.” The results of the studies reviewed in the article conclude a correlation with myopia and an increased amount of near work activity and limited time outdoors.

Honing in on this conclusion, studies have further revealed high instances of myopia in individuals with increased levels of education. The following is the result of a study conducted in Germany on the association between education level and myopia.

In university graduates, the proportion of myopic persons was higher (53%) than that of those who graduated from secondary (34.8%) or primary (34.7%) vocational schools and than in those without any professional training (23.9%…)

Drawing a correlation between schooling and nearsighted vision gives some explanation on why myopia is so prevalent in Asian countries that tend to have more schooling.

In light of such evidence, the science community has taken to advising preventative measures for the progression of myopia. Changing habits like limiting near work and spending more time outdoors are some suggestions. Thus, if environmental factors can be adjusted to limit the progression of myopia, can it also be reversed?

The discussion on reversing myopia isn’t new. Dr. William H. Bates was a prominent ophthalmologist in the late 1800s that formulated a method involving performing exercises to relax the eyes. The flaw with his approach is it only addressed pseudomyopia. Pseudomyopia is the temporary nearsightedness due to cramping of the ciliary muscle (the muscle used for shortening and lengthening the eye’s lenses to focus) after prolonged near work. The cramping prevents the lenses from shifting back to a shortened state when viewing objects in the distance, thus causing blurry vision.

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Diagram from an published by Thomas T. Norton in the International Academic Research Journal

When this occurs, we typically seek the assistance of glasses or contact lenses to alleviate the problem. The introduction of corrective lenses acts as a stimulus that our body adapts to. When we continue the somewhat inevitable habit of prolonged near work activity with corrective lenses on, the body accounts for the change in diopters by elongating the eyes so images can come into focus on the retina. This phenomenon that Bates was unaware of at the time is known as the axial elongation of the eyes. Now, pseudomyopia becomes lens-induced or axial myopia that eye exercises can not fix.

Axial elongation of the eyes is the key to determining whether or not myopia can be reversed. More specifically, can reversing the stimuli that triggered the eyes to elongate then shorten the eyes? Science proves that is the case.

A study released in the Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science showed promising results. Subjects in the study were given negative lenses (typical glasses for nearsightedness) and positive lenses (reading glasses purchased at any drug store). The measurements of the subjects’ eye length showed significant changes in both direction, lengthening and shortening of the eye depending on what the body determined needed to be done to focus the image on the retina.

Such a conclusion leads to a strong possibility of reversing myopia. Currently, there aren’t scholarly studies on whether or not it’s possible. However, there are champions for the cause. The most notable are Jake Steiner of endmyopia.org and Todd Becker of gettingstronger.org. They are not doctors but have thoroughly researched scientific evidence to support their methods for regaining 20/20 vision. Both have a plethora of testimonials from people that have followed their methods and improved their eyesight.

The core behind their methods is trusting in the body’s ability to adapt and reinstating the balance that it seeks. Here’s a quick summary of what they teach.

  1. Gather knowledge. Don’t blindly follow these methods. Understand the cause and the science behind why you are myopic. Then know how myopic you are (your prescription), so you know your starting point.
  2. Decrease dependence on glasses. Becker uses the print pushing method where you progressively train your eyes to see further and further as you gradually move your laptop, book, or phone to a distance at the threshold of blurry and legible. For activities that require far distances, use lenses that are 0.5 diopters weaker. This is not recommended for driving or activities where safety is a concern.
  3. Challenge your eyes to focus. They refer to this as active focus. Becker calls this fusing ghosted images. Essentially, it’s concentrating on a distant object with sharp contrast and allowing the blur to come into focus.
  4. Assess habitats on near work activities. A general shift in perspective on nearsightedness could help with this. Think of blurry vision as a way of our bodies telling us — as it does in so many other fascinating ways — that we’re doing too much of something. We’re out of balance. We need to take time to enjoy some sunshine and experience the world around us.
  5. Be patient. Myopia took time to develop and progress. Therefore, it will take time to regress. Again, this is all about perspective. Instant gratification, the use of corrective lenses, in some ways, contributed to some progressions of myopia. Using these methods will not be an immediate fix. According to Becker, some see results within a few weeks.

The burning question is, are these methods effective? At the moment, there’s no empirical evidence claiming the effectiveness. Yet considering there’s virtually no risk factor, it’s a case of “don’t knock it ‘till you try it.”

The saying is hindsight is 20/20. Knowledge is 20/20 too. Amid the debate and discussion on the reversal of myopia, the critical takeaway is knowledge and the ability to make informed decisions is power. Understanding our eyes allows us to take the reigns on the care of such a crucial component of our human experience — our eyes.

Learning to be human. Learning to love bigger.

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