In fact, several popular eye exercise programs have been removed from the marketplace for making apparently false claims about their effectiveness.
For example, an Iowa district court in November 2006 halted all sales of See Clearly Method kits that had been marketed for several years by a company called Vision Improvement Technologies as a way to improve vision through eye exercises.
Based on allegations that included misleading advertising, the state court ordered the Iowa company to pay $200,000 into a restitution fund to compensate consumers who had paid about $350 for each of thousands of kits.
In the lawsuit, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller accused the company of making "dramatic claims for its product that could not be substantiated."
Steven M. Beresford, PhD, is founder and CEO of American Vision Institute (AVI) — the entity behind the original See Clearly Method. Beresford told AllAboutVision.com via e-mail in late 2008: "In our opinion, the Iowa attorney general was paid off by the AOA [American Optometric Association] by means of a bribe or campaign contribution to carry out a proxy attack."
AVI operates a website that offers a new Power Vision Program "consisting of the most effective techniques of the See Clearly Method," according to the company. The Power Vision Program, which AVI claims can "reduce, perhaps even eliminate your dependency on glasses or contact lenses," can be downloaded from the company's website for $35.
Self-help programs like the See Clearly Method, the Power Vision Program and other eye exercise programs promoted online usually claim they can reduce refractive errors such as nearsightedness and astigmatism, as well as presbyopia.
These programs differ from supervised programs of vision therapy prescribed by eye doctors (usually optometrists) to correct certain eye alignment and other binocular vision problems, or to enhance dynamic visual skills for sports vision.
Can Eye Exercises Alter Your Eye's Basic Anatomy?
Problems with how the eye is shaped typically contribute to focusing errors such as nearsightedness, farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism. For example:
- When the eyeball is too short, you are farsighted and can't focus on near objects because light rays entering your eye achieve a point of focus somewhere beyond your retina.
- When you are nearsighted and your eyeball is too long, light rays have too far to go and "fall short" of achieving a point of focus on your retina.
- When you have astigmatism, usually your cornea has an irregular shape. Sometimes, astigmatism results when your eye's natural lens has an irregular shape. These irregularities cause light rays entering your eye to split into different points of focus, creating blurry vision.
- Another common vision problem, presbyopia, occurs with aging when your eye's natural lens starts to lose elasticity and no longer can move properly to accommodate focus at multiple distances. This condition typically causes your near vision to start blurring, beginning at around age 40.
When you "exercise" your eyes, you move your eye muscles to create up-and-down, side-to-side or circular motion. You also "work" the muscles controlling back-and-forth movement of your eye's natural lens, to help achieve sight at multiple distances.
So if you are considering an eye exercise program to improve your vision, ask yourself these questions:
- Will exercising your eyes change the basic shape of your eyeball, by making it longer or shorter?
- Will eye exercises alter the basic shape of your cornea, and change the angle of how light rays enter your eye to achieve focus? (For example, this is how LASIK works to correct common vision errors.)
- If you have astigmatism, will exercising your eyes somehow reshape your eye's irregular surface?
- If you have presbyopia, will eye exercises restore your eye's lens to its once youthful elasticity that has declined due to aging processes?
A recent review of research published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals conducted by AllAboutVision.com failed to uncover any studies showing that eye exercises can alter the eye's basic anatomy significantly or eliminate presbyopia — which no one escapes after a certain age.
You possibly can "train" your eyes to see better in different ways, such as in how your brain and your eyes adapt and function. Children with certain early vision problems, such as amblyopia or "lazy eye," may need a specific type of vision therapy to make sure their eyes work together properly (binocular vision) and that vision is developing normally.
But above all else, eye shape determines your basic refractive error. And if you have a significant problem with the way your eye is shaped, it's unlikely you will be able to "throw away" your glasses even after a devoted program of eye exercises.
After evaluations of various studies involving programs of eye exercises, biofeedback, muscle relaxation, eye patching and eye massage, officials at the American Academy of Ophthalmology issued this statement in 2004:
"It is not clear if patients purchasing these programs for use at home outside of the controlled environment of a research study will have any improvement in their vision. No evidence was found that visual training has any effect on the progression of myopia. No evidence was found that visual training improves visual function for patients with hyperopia or astigmatism. No evidence was found that visual training improves vision lost through disease processes such as age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma or diabetic retinopathy."
The See Clearly Method of Eye Exercises
The See Clearly Method was developed by four American Vision Institute doctors. AVI licensed the program to Vision Improvement Technologies, which then marketed the See Clearly Method directly to the public.
When the See Clearly Method was being widely promoted, the original website (seeclearlymethod.com) did not include statements regarding scientific proof of the program's effectiveness.
However, the website said the do-it-yourself vision improvement plan was a "safe, healthy alternative to glasses, contacts and even laser surgery." But then a disclaimer on the site noted: "The rate at which your eyesight improves as a result of the See Clearly Method and the extent of that improvement, if any, will vary among individuals."
With no way of knowing whether it worked, purchasers bought the product on faith. The Iowa Attorney General's office said the company charged customers about $350 retail for each of the 5,000 to 10,000 kits sold monthly. People wanting to return the kits for a refund reportedly encountered difficulty getting through to a company representative.
The basic version of the See Clearly Method included three videotapes, three audiotapes, an instruction manual, a daily progress chart and other materials. The deluxe version included a CD-ROM.
A fundamental premise of the program was that refractive disorders such as myopia may be partially hereditary but also have environmental causes, such as focusing stress caused by prolonged reading and other near work. Certain eye exercises in the See Clearly Method were designed to relieve "locking up" of the eye's focusing mechanism (a condition called accommodative spasm) from stress and fatigue, thereby reducing the risk for myopia progression and possibly reversing myopia.
Other exercises were said to improve eye coordination or to straighten misaligned eyes. It's important to note that while many people think of such eye exercises as vision therapy, most vision therapists do not advocate or endorse self-directed programs.
The See Clearly Method had you do 30 minutes of exercises a day to strengthen and enhance the flexibility of the muscles that govern the eye's focusing power and control its movements. Six of the activities were described as "new visual habits." One, for example, had you hold a finger up as you varied your focus back and forth from the finger to a distant object.
Then there were 10 "booster techniques," designed to "address problems or encourage faster progress," according to the instruction manual. The "blur reading" technique, for example, had you turn a magazine upside-down at a distance from which the words were blurry. You were then supposed to select a word and run your gaze around it, and if you could pick out any letters, run your gaze around them. Each of the exercises might take two to four minutes. You recorded your progress in the journal that came with the kit.
The instruction manual recommended personal affirmations to help you along. You might remind yourself, for example: "I am seeing better each day." If you were having any doubts, you might declare: "I can see without my glasses," or "I feel positive changes in my vision taking place."
"Visualization" also was a component of the See Clearly Method, along with techniques that were holdovers from an eye exercises regimen called the Bates Method, developed in the 1920s by maverick New York City ophthalmologist William Horatio Bates, MD.
Light therapy, a takeoff on Bates's technique of "sunning," had you sit with your eyes closed and your face six inches from an unshaded 150-watt bulb, just far enough to make your eyes "pleasantly warm but not too hot," according to the manual. Meanwhile, the manual suggested that you "repeat your affirmation and visualize your inner lens becoming more flexible and the ciliary muscle more powerful. Visualize the eyeball transforming into a better shape."
The "palming" technique had you close your eyes and rest them against your palms, while "hydrotherapy" had you alternately placing hot- and cold-water-soaked towels against your eyes. Affirmations and visualization were said to help with these techniques as well.
As (or if) your vision improved, you were encouraged to obtain progressively weaker corrective lenses from your eye doctor until you no longer required correction or you enjoyed the maximum improvement. You were advised that patching one eye could be necessary if the fellow eye lagged in its expected improvement.
Do Eye Exercises Work?
A long-standing criticism of eye exercises by optometrists and ophthalmologists is the absence of scientific research that demonstrates eye exercises can effectively reduce or eliminate refractive errors and decrease your need for glasses or contact lenses. The medical literature lacks well-controlled clinical studies — with strict scientific criteria including carefully matched comparison populations — showing that eye exercises effectively treat myopia or hyperopia.
David W. Muris, OD, one of the four doctors who developed the See Clearly Method, conducted a clinical evaluation of the product in his Sacramento, Calif., practice during the fall of 1999.
"The investors just wanted some due diligence and some people to actually go through this," he said. "They didn't want to require anything scientific."
According to Dr. Muris, the evaluation involved 21 people ages 14 to 80 with mild myopia (less than -3.00 diopters). After six weeks of eye exercises, nine of the 21 had "significant" improvement and 11 had "moderate" improvement in visual acuity. Seven eliminated their need for glasses or contacts, he said, while 11 had "reduced dependency," meaning they needed their corrective lenses for less time than before.
AllAboutVision.com conducted its own decidedly unscientific evaluation of the See Clearly Method when a staffer gave it a try and experienced no vision improvement. In addition, as a busy working mother of three, she found the minimum of 30 minutes a day the program required too demanding of her time and felt that just wearing her contact lenses was a more reasonable option.
Eye exercise programs occupy a nebulous space somewhere between medical science and folk remedy. Most optometrists and ophthalmologists are dismissive of the types of programs promising that you can "throw away your glasses."
The See Clearly Method's advocates not only acknowledged the unconventional status of the program, but they regarded that position as a virtue.
From the instruction manual, we learned that: "In the history of medicine, new ideas have often been resisted by those schooled in traditional methods." We were told that the decision to wear glasses or contacts — for the present purposes defined as "crutches" — borders on the mentally unsound.
Promotional materials declared: "Certainly, except for diseases and injuries for which there is no cure, nobody in their right mind would willingly accept a condition that compromises the ability to function and enjoy life, or to be dependent on crutches forever."
The number of corrective-lens haters is open to debate, but Levi Meeske, a 25-year-old job-placement counselor in Atlanta, found his contact lenses sufficiently loathsome to give the See Clearly Method a try. Six weeks after starting the program, he was delighted, he said, with his visual improvement. The refractive error in his right eye had improved modestly from -3.25 to -3.00 diopters (D), while his left eye remained stable at -3.75 D.
Meeske still needs contact lenses to correct his vision. "But when they are in, I can see farther — as I'm looking at buildings or at trees, the amount of detail that I'm able to pick up has greatly increased," he said. "Looking at grass, looking at flowers, the colors are much more vibrant."
Keep in mind, however, that the Iowa Attorney General's office found in company records that far more unhappy customers wrote in about their results, and that positive letters were "relatively scarce."
The See Clearly Method was one of the more popular eye exercise programs and was widely advertised. Though it is no longer marketed, similar do-it-yourself vision improvement programs are readily available online.
In fact, a Web search we conducted in 2011 for "eye exercises to improve vision" produced a number of websites promoting such programs — as well as some strange conspiracy theory chatter alleging that optometrists and ophthalmologists know the "truth" about benefits of eye exercises but won't tell their patients because they then wouldn't be able to sell eyeglasses, contact lenses and eye surgery.
Such reckless claims illustrate the importance of considering the credibility of sources when seeking reliable health information on the Web.
While there may be little harm in trying eye exercises to improve your vision, it's wise to keep your expectations in check. We recommend that before you invest time and money in self-help vision improvement programs, first have a comprehensive eye exam and ask your eye doctor for professional advice regarding the effectiveness and safety of any eye exercise programs you are considering.
[Page updated May 2014]