Opinion » Antidote

Refractive Error Messages


My dad calls me contrary, but I'm a skeptic just like you. So, when I got the attached e-mail (forwarded a bunch of times already) talking about eye exercises that will have you "throwing away your glasses," I knew I'd be sending it in your direction. If you can, will you reply with your whole column, so I can forward it back to all the people on the list? I'm assuming there is no factual basis for this nonsense. I'm right, right?


Don't be surprised that your forwarded e-mail made it past my screening process. I'd like to tell you that I usually delete any message with a telltale subject line, but it wouldn't be true. I have a strange compulsion to open every "FW: Fwd: Fw: This is SO Cute!!" e-mail with a naive hopefulness that I'll see another sneezing baby panda. Lately, though, I'm only finding photos of two cats asleep in a sink. On the bright side, being compulsive about reading every e-mail has finally paid off: I've recently gotten word that the Nigerian Minister of Finance needs my help in releasing funds from an account that I had long ago forgotten about.

Although my newfound wealth will soon afford me a crack staff of researchers, I won't need them for this question. I recognize many of the drills described in the forwarded e-mail as originating from the Bates Method, an early 20th century vision-correction program. Dr. William Bates, a then-respected ophthalmologist, eventually came to believe that the source of all refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism) was not the eye itself, but mental stress and strain. He postulated that anxiety tightens the half-dozen muscles attached to the outside of the eyeball, pulling the eye out of shape and disrupting a person's ability to focus. As his evidence, Bates claimed to have witnessed a little girl become instantly nearsighted the moment she told him a lie. His proof is not exactly clear, but if true, it could explain the gigantic teleprompters I noticed at a recent Ann Coulter keynote address.

Bates' remedy for visual acuity and most eye conditions (cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration) was simply relaxation. Originally published in 1920, his book, Perfect Sight without Glasses, includes odd techniques like "palming" (cupping the hands over the eyes to "see" perfect blackness), "swinging" (twisting your entire body without focusing on anything in particular) and "sunlight exposure" (looking directly at the sun with closed eyes). Additionally, he stated that eyeglasses are a crutch and must be discarded for his method to be successful. Today's technology has provided such overwhelming evidence against his theory that Bates himself, were he alive today, would likely be persuaded. The same cannot be said for the originators of your e-mail.

True, an elongated eyeball does cause nearsightedness--but that lengthening is genetic or developmental. Our ability to focus on near or distant objects is accomplished by changing the shape of our tiny lens, not the orb of the eye, in a process called accommodation. Most practicing ophthalmologists and optometrists understand this concept and agree that eye muscles cannot significantly affect the shape of the eyeball. Although Bates' techniques are generally harmless--with the exception of extended sun exposure--the potential delay in obtaining medical attention (especially regarding glaucoma) makes critics quite adamant about exposing the method's flaws. And that's also what makes this circulating e-mail dangerous.

Apparently oblivious to all evidence is a somewhat recent spin-off called the See-Clearly Method. This heavily marketed home program combines Bates' methods with physical eye exercises, acupressure and positive affirmations. The $350 package includes manuals, charts and videos and originally claimed to eliminate the need for corrective lenses. Ultimately, the program was about as effective as diversity training might be for Ann Coulter, yet refund requests were commonly ignored. In 2005, the Iowa attorney general filed a lawsuit charging exaggerated claims, misleading advertising and consumer fraud. A judgment last November forced the company to stop selling the program and mandated a $200,000 fund to pay back the method's still-myopic customers.

Some actual professionals, however, do use eye exercises; specialists in orthoptics teach patients specific drills for improving eye coordination, focus problems or ways to avoid surgery for strabismus ("lazy eye"). Sadly, there are still no exercises proven to restore visual acuity; e-mails that say otherwise aren't worth their kilobytes. I suggest you delete those messages and concentrate instead on the notices of undervalued stocks. Of course, I won't need to invest in them because of my huge Nigerian windfall, but from what I've read, wind power captured from after-dinner speeches is the next big thing.

Dr. Ed Rabin is a chiropractor practicing at Life Chiropractic Center in Boise. Send Snellen charts and health-related questions to theantidote@edrabin.com (on the Web at www.edrabin.com).