Are you tired of wearing glasses and disappointed that your prescription continues to get stronger every year? It doesn’t have to be that way. I was wearing progressively stronger lenses for my nearsightedness until ten years ago I accidentally stumbled upon a method that allowed me to acheive 20/20 vision and throw away my glasses within a year. For the past decade I have not worn glasses or contacts, but I am able to drive, read, and see everything clearly and sharply. The secret was learning how to actually change my eyes so that they could focus clearly on any objects — near or far, without wearing glasses. The method I used is one of the best examples of the self-strengthening technique called Hormetism, the focus of my blog, which I’ve applied to improve my strength and resilience in many other areas. This is not an infomercial: The method requires several weeks or months of diligent effort, with periodic followup, and results may vary. But for this relatively small investment of time and effort, you may consider the possibility of lasting freedom from prescription lenses to be worth investigating. It worked for me and numerous others who have tried this approach.
The problem with glasses and contacts are that they are crutches. Just like using leg crutches to help you walk when you are recovering from a broken or injured leg, glasses give you the instant gratification of being able to suddenly see clearly with eyes that have lost the ability to focus well on their own. Glasses are a quick fix indeed! However, they don’t address the root cause that allowed your eyes to get out of shape in the first place: deformation of the actual shape of the eye. Myopia (nearsightedness) is caused by elongation of the eye; hyperopia (farsightedness) by the eye becoming shorter in length. And just as one’s leg would never fully recover, but would actually become weaker, if you continued to use crutches indefinitely, the use of corrective lenses allows your eye to become progressively weaker — either more myopic or hyperopic, as the case may be. The use of laser surgery may seem to be the best of all fixes, by permanently resculpting the cornea. But the risks and complications can be significant, and continued bad vision habits can result in the need for repeat surgery.
The approach that worked for me — and which I advocate here — is the frequent and strategic use of anti-corrective lenses for several weeks or months, combined with special techniques involving simple eye exercises that will reshape the eye to achieve and maintain visual acuity. Unlike other eye exercise techniques, such as the Bates Method, the use of anti-corrective lenses has solid experimental support from human and animal studies. By contrast, the Bates Method is based on an unproven idea that refractive errors are caused by “eye strain” and can be relieved by relaxation exercises.
The Bates Method. William Bates believed that the eye changed shaped when attempting to focus, thereby inducing muscular tension. Bates developed a number of techniques, such as “palming” and movement exercises, to help relax the eye, and “visualization” to enhance memory of colors and shapes. But according to Wikipedia:
“Despite continued anecdotal reports of successful results, Bates’ techniques have not been shown to objectively improve eyesight, and his main physiological proposition – that the eyeball changes shape to maintain focus – has consistently been contradicted by observation. In 1952, optometry professor Elwin Marg wrote of Bates, ‘Most of his claims and almost all of his theories have been considered false by practically all visual scientists.’ Marg concluded that the Bates method owed its popularity largely to ‘flashes of clear vision’ experienced by many who followed it. Such occurrences have since been determined to most likely be a contact lens-like effect of moisture on the eye.”
By contrast with the Bates Method, the method of hormetism uses controlled application of stress to induce an adapative growth response — a physical remodelling — of the shape of the eye. Support for this approach comes from extensive animal and human studies showing that the eye actually remodels neuroplastically in response to repeated focusing stimulus. These experimental results have been synthesized into a theory known as the incremental retinal-defocus theory of myopia development (IRDT theory). According to the IRDT theory, extensive close-up focusing of the eyes (for example by reading and wearing minus lenses) causes the image of close objects to be out of focus on the retina, resulting in biochemical processes that affect the rate of synthesis of connective tissues that control the rate of growth of retinal tissues and the shape of the eye. The theoretical and experimental work supporting the IRDT theory is quite interesting and is explained in more detail on the Rehabilitation page of this blog, for those who are interested in the fascinating science behind this.
Anti-corrective lenses. The approach advocated here is a very specific use of anti-corrective lenses in combination with good visual habits to ensure routine variation in the use of the eyes for both up close and distance activities. The most well documented use of anti-corrective lenses is for the reversal of myopia; in this case it is called “plus lens therapy”. Strange as it may seem, this involves wearing the opposite type of glasses normally prescribed for myopia or for hyperopia, making it initially less comfortable to focus. Specifically, so-called “plus” lenses are employed to overcome nearsightedness (myopia) and “minus” lenses to overcome farsightedness (hyperopia). In my discussion on the Rehabilitation page, there is a more extensive discussion of the history of the use of plus lenses.
The use of anti-corrective lenses is a classic case of the five general principles of Hormetism, as outlined on the Overview page of this website:
- the viewing distance is adjusted to simulate real-world conditions as closely as possible (i.e. the eye is actually focusing in the distance while reading a book or computer screen that is close up);
- a constraint (an eye cover or plus lens) is imposed on the stronger eye to focus the stress on the weaker eye, and both eyes are held at the limit of their ability to comfortably focus
- the intensity is adjusted to be somewhat uncomfortable, but still short of “failure”;
- adequate recovery is allowed during rest periods between sessions; and
- gradualism is observed by progressively increasing the focal range over time in order to force adaptive remodeling of the eye.
How to proceed. The clearest explanation of how to use plus lenses was given by Brian Severson, who many years ago published the key steps in his “Vision Freedom” system. Comparing the eye to a digital camera, Severson observed that the eye will attempt to “autofocus” on any image that is slightly out of focus, but will not even attempt to focus on objects that are significantly out of focus. Furthermore, he found that the focal range can be extended by a simple technique. Here is the essence of the technique:
Step 1. Find your starting range of focus:
“Take off your prescription lenses and put this page right on the end of your nose. Now push the print slowly away until it becomes clear and in focus, and stop. Now close each eye and see which one is sending the clear image to your brain. You have just entered the range of focus of your better close vision eye. It dominates for all close work…Now open both eyes, and slowly push the print away until the very first indication that the print is no longer perfectly clear and in focus, and stop…You have just found the limit of your range of focus for that eye”.
Step 2: Push your eyes to increase their range of focus.
For myopes, this is done by repeatedly pushing a printed page just slightly outside the range of focus, and allowing it to sharpen up or “clear”. (For hyperopes, the page is pulled closer until it blurs, then allowed to clear). The eye gradually adapts to increase its range. This can be done with different objects at different ranges. So it can be done with fine print close up, but also with larger objects in the distance. It is especially useful to focus on sharp lines, such as overhead electrical transmission lines, and houses or trees with sharp edges.
For myopes, the process is best carried out by using plus lenses, the “reading glasses”, available in most pharmacies, that hyperopes typically use for close reading; conversely, hyperopes can accelerate the process by using minus lenses that myopes use for vision distance. Myopes can improve their vision by starting with the strongest plus lenses they can wear that will maintain their reading or computer just within their focal range. (Hyperopes do the converse). Typically, for mild myopia, one starts by wearing a +1 diopter lens and moving up to a +1.5 or +2 lens as soon as it becomes comfortable. If the myopia or hyperopia is extreme to the point where anti-corrective lenses do not allow a reasonable focal range, then it may be preferable or necessary to use reduced prescription lenses, i.e., lenses in which the diopter have been somewhat reduced by +1 or +2 diopters. With time and success, these can be progressively weakened, and a move can be made to anti-corrective lenses.
HERE IS THE CRITICAL STEP: For the focusing exercises, one should periodically push the book or computer slightly out of focal range and wait for the image to clear again. This will cause a slight feeling of discomfort, but the eye will focus as long as the distance is just slightly out of the comfort zone. If your eyes cannot focus, move a few inches closer again until the reading material is just within focus.
This procedure can be followed for hours or more during everyday activities such as reading and computer work, watching TV, walking or driving. The anti-corrective or reduced prescription lens diopter rating (the plus or minus number) should be selected so as to make the eyes slightly uncomfortable, while still allowing clear focusing.
If the right and left eyes are very uneven in strength, it may be necessary to match different corrections to each eye (buy two pairs and pop out and replace one side), or to cover the stronger eye with a patch or diffuser. Much as with CI movement therapy, this follows the principle of “constraint” to ensure that the primary stress is focused on the weaker eye, stimulating it to do most of the focusing, until it catches up with the stronger eye. We don’t want the weak eye to coast along with a “free ride” or only the stronger eye will benefit.
When to use the anti-corrective lenses. It is only necessary to use anti-corrective lenses for short periods of time — one to three hours each day, for the appropriate activities — to see significant progress over several weeks. It is important to realize that the strong anticorrective lenses are only to be used for the activities for which your prescription glasses were least needed! So for myopes, wear the plus lenses only for close work (reading and computer work); for hyperopes, wear the minus lenses when looking in the distance or across the room, but not when reading or at the computer. For myope engaging in distance activities (such as driving or viewing presentations), either no lenses or undercorrected lenses are recommended, though very mild plus lenses (less than +1 diopters) can be used when the myopia has been significantly reduced. The key is that the eye will adapt and remodel only when subjected to mildly uncomfortable stress. If the stress is excessive, the eye gives up and no progress is made. This principle is very similar that followed by weight lifters, who understand the importance of slight, but not excessive, overload.
Misunderstandings. Failure to understand this need to change or remove anti-corrective lenses in response to the distance of the current activity has led to some flawed studies which purported to show the ineffectiveness of plus lens therapy. One example of this is a frequently cited paper by Chung, Mohidan and O’Leary (http://tinyurl.com/chung22) which found that myopic children fitted with undercorrected lenses showed a more rapid progression of myopia than children wearing lenses with full correction. So the eyesight of these children actually got worse by using undercorrection than normal correction. This would appear to contradict the IRDT hypothesis that the eye can be stimulated via lens therapy to grow shorter in axial length, and hence reduce myopia. And this result has been repeatedly cited by others as disproving the effectiveness of plus lenses or undercorrection.
However, a re-analysis of this study by Hung and Ciuffreda of Rutgers University (http://abstracts.iovs.org/cgi/content/abstract/44/5/4791) came to a different conclusion. In addition to normal correction and slight undercorrection groups, the Hung and Ciufredda study included a group using “high-powered plus lenses”. Their analysis found that the high-powered plus lenses led to hyperopic growth (in other words, shortening of the eye’s axial length), which decreased the myopia of the children wearing those lenses. And the progression of myopia in children who wore undercorrected lenses is explained by the fact that they wore these all the time, not when just reading. This led to a diminished stimulus by facilitating accommodative focuses during “near-to-far viewing cycles”, which underminded the benefits of undercorrection. Based upon this analysis, the proper use of undercorrection would be to wear the undercorrective lenses only during long distance viewing. This is a key point! Note that, according to the protocol of the study (Chung et al, p. 2556), “Subjects were instructed to wear their glasses all the time except during sleeping.” The fact that the undercorrected lenses were worn for close up viewing as well as distance viewing, would tend to undermine their effectiveness, according to the IRDT theory. In their summary, Hung and Ciufredda conclude:
Based on IRDT analysis, high-powered plus lens, full correction, and 0.75 D under-correction result in relative hyperopic, emmetropic, and myopic growth, respectively. Thus, the theory is able to explain these apparently contradictory findings. Moreover, the IRDT provides a consistent theoretical framework for understanding the development of myopia under a variety of experimental and clinical conditions.
So far from disproving the value of plus lenses and undercorrection, this study supports the IRDT theory for treating myopia. The conclusion should be taken as showing how NOT to use undercorrected lenses — don’t wear them for close work and reading, only for far distance viewing activities such as driving. On the other hand, for close work (reading and computer use), wearing stronger plus lenses are effective in counteracting myopia. Based upon IRDT theory, I suppose the ideal combination would be bifocals with plus lenses for close vision and undercorrection for distance vision, or using two different glasses for these different situations.
Work without lenses. In addition to using anti-corrective lenses for close up activities (or distance activities, in the case of hyperopes), it is important to engage in frequent and deliberate near-to-far focusing exercises in daily life. Without glasses, take some time to look intently and focus on distant objects, and alternate this with looking at close up objects. Just as when using the lenses, try to focus on objects at the edge or just beyond of your current focal range, allowing them to “clear”. I found it most helpful to choose objects with crisply defined dark lines or borders, such as telephone poles and power lines or edges of buildings. You’ll soon notice that blurry or “double” images will begin to resolve. I remember becoming excited when I started to see crisp power lines, and billboard signs, and could eventually start to read signs at a distance. This is one of the most motivating aspects of the technique. On the Rehabilitation page, you’ll find my speculations as to how this resolution of double images relates to the mechanisms of eye remodelling and the IRDT theory.
A final word: Be patient. Your eyes took a long time to lose their shape, and they won’t pop back into shape overnight. Just as building muscles in the gym takes time and discipline, remodelling your eyes is a step-by-step process that takes time. Most likely, you’ll notice progress in spurts. And just like going to the gym, you will need to keep you eyes in shape by periodically using anti-corrective lenses (especially if you will be spending a lot of time reading or at the computer), and by varying your daily activities to include looking at both near and far objects. But if you stick with it, you’ll find your eyesight is improving, perhaps at a time when many of your older friends are finding their eyesight is getting worse.
If this topic interests you, please comment below, or check out the Rehabilitation Discussion Forum, where a number of people have reported their success with using the Hormetism method for improving eyesight, manual dexterity, and other areas of overcoming the need for corrective devices.
April 2012 update: See my interview, How one person improved his vision, for details on how the above method helped one individual achieve 20/15 vision!