Can eye training improve your vision, or even do away with the need for glasses? Good question. Let’s take a closer look. Due to the current working-from-home situation, many people are sitting in front of their computer screens for eight or more hours a day. In certain sectors, employees can even be obliged to work up to 12 hours a day, according to legislation passed in 2020.
And even when we finish work, our eyes often don’t get a chance to relax as we continue to stare at our smartphone screens or watch TV for hours. You can imagine the effect this can have on our eye health. Hours of staring at a screen can have serious consequences for our eyes.
Eye conditions have increased dramatically
Various studies from Canada, the US state of Maryland and also from Japan have shown that eye conditions have increased significantly. Up to 25 percent of people are said to suffer from the digital eye disease known as office eye syndrome. Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (KCS for short), also known as dry eye syndrome, is an ophthalmic disease characterised by dryness of the eyes.
The term “keratoconjunctivitis sicca” was coined in the early 1930s by the Swedish ophthalmologist Henrik Sjögren in the course of his research into Sjögren’s syndrome. The term sicca syndrome was derived from this, and includes keratoconjunctivitis sicca as part of the symptoms of sicca.
We have known about “office eye syndrome” for a long time. Every fifth patient in ophthalmological practices reports burning, itchy and light-sensitive eyes. The most common reason is that our eyes don’t have enough tears. Dry eye syndrome is a widespread disease, and possibly the most common problem found in ophthalmologists’ practices, writes the Barmer health insurance company.
Computers, surveillance monitors, laptops, smartphones, tablets and televisions strain our eyes excessively. But what causes dry eye syndrome? When we look at screens for long periods of time, we don’t move our eyes, but rather keep them still. This results in the constriction of the dynamic viewing process.
This in turn suppresses our natural eye reflexes, such as blinking, which we do automatically when we switch from close-up to long-distance focus. When we stare at something fixedly, instead of blinking 20 to 25 times every minute, we only blink 2 to 4 times. So if our eyes are constantly looking at something the same distance away, this results in a kind of spasm or cramp of the inner and outer eye muscles. This stops them from being able to relax.
The Optics Academy explains to us what happens in this situation: “When we blink, we redistribute the tear film, especially lipids, over the surface of our eyes. Lipids are substances similar to oil and fat that form the top layer of the tear film. Their main purpose is to stop the underlying layer of the tear film evaporating. When working on a computer, we drastically reduce the amount we blink, which reduces the corneal thickness by up to approx. 25%. This then reduces by 45% the length of time between blinks for which our tear film remains stable.”
That doesn’t sound good. We cannot allow our work to cause us dry, burning, reddened eyes and blurred vision, sensitivity to light and glare, headaches and tiredness. If you experience these symptoms, they are the signs of the digital eye disease known as office eye syndrome.
If you suffer from office eye syndrome, the only solution is to go to an ophthalmologist. Germany’s professional association of ophthalmologists specifies exactly what you need to do: see an ophthalmologist for a diagnosis and then get treatment for your dry eyes.
Slit-lamp examination: the ophthalmologist examines the surface of your eye with a biomicroscope (slit lamp), and if necessary, uses a dye to colour the tear film.
Evaluation of your tear refreshment time: using a slit lamp, the ophthalmologist can determine how much time passes between you blinking and your tear film tearing up.
The Schirmer test: here the ophthalmologist examines the amount of tears you produce by placing a small strip of filter paper in your eye. After a short time, the amount of moisture in the strip is measured. Various tear substitutes are available for treating dry eyes. In certain cases, an additional anti-inflammatory treatment can also be helpful.
Other causes of eye strain include lighting issues, dry air from central heating, draughts, air conditioning and frequent changes of temperature. When it comes to further causes of sicca syndrome, the BARMER health insurance company writes that the clinical picture is complex and diverse.
Hormonal changes, for example during pregnancy or menopause, can act as triggers, as can the use of certain medications such as beta blockers, birth control pills or psychotropic drugs. Contact lenses and diseases such as diabetes, rheumatism or neurodermatitis can also cause the condition. External conditions such as environmental dust pollution and prolonged screen work can often exacerbate the condition.
Can eye training help?
Our eyes need to perform at their best every day, and office work is hard on them. But can eye training prevent eye disease? This has not yet been scientifically proven, but there are many people who seem to have found it helpful. The origin of eye training goes back to the American ophthalmologist William Bates. He developed an eye training method (Bates method) which was named after him. At the time, it was employed as the basis of numerous so-called visual therapy schools. Bates believed that our eyes can manage without glasses well into old age. This is a point on which opinions differ.
In 1920 Bates published his theory of eye training in the book “Perfect Sight Without Glasses”, and from 1919 to 1930 he published several articles in the magazine “Better Eyesight”. One of his recommendations was to alternate holding a fixed gaze with relaxing your eyes and to avoid “unhealthy” staring. Back then he couldn’t have known anything about staring at screens for hours, but he still managed to understand the core of the issue.
Today we know that eye training can very well help if your sight issues are caused by reading or staring at a screen for long periods of time. According to the German Association for Healthy Vision, eye training achieves the best results when treating presbyopia, hyperopia (long-sightedness) and myopia (short-sightedness).
Carrots don’t improve your eyesight
In addition to eye training, nutrition plays an important role in your eyesight. The magazine Fit for Fun reports that vitamin A plays a particularly important role in our vision, as well as supporting the renewal of mucous membranes, skin and blood cells. Vitamin C, which can be found in kiwi fruit, kale, citrus fruit and peppers, is also good for our eyes. There is still a myth surrounding vitamin E and vitamin A precursors, which include carrots. But although they are rich in vitamin A, carrots cannot improve your eyesight or cure visual impairments.
Many eye trainers claim that with the right training, up to 40 million Germans could get rid of their glasses or contact lenses. But ophthalmologists say: it has not been scientifically proven that eye training can correct myopia. Their critics believe that if everyone did a little eye training every day, ophthalmologists and opticians would be out of a job. But we’re steering clear of this argument.
Eye training cannot cure eye disease
We will say one thing: according to the online portal medizin transparent, which is supported by the independent scientific network Cochrane Austria, studies have not found that eye training has a preventive or therapeutic effect on myopia. According to medizin transparent’s assessment, there is no scientific proof that eye training has an effect on the majority of eye diseases. However, in the opinion of Apotheken Umschau, eye training isn’t dangerous either.
We’re not talking about eye disease, however, but about eye strain caused by technological screens and the digital workplace. And in this area, eye training can well lead to improvements, as the blue light component in screens can damage your retinas. You can take the following action: blink regularly, take small breaks and every now and then take your eyes off the screen and look into the distance. By occasionally looking into the distance, you increase your blink rate, which keeps your eyes moister and reduces the strain on your eyes.
Resting your eyes regularly is also very important. One effective method is known as palming. Apotheken.de writes: “Palming is a simple relaxation exercise. To do this, make sure you are sitting comfortably, then close your eyes, arch your hands slightly and place them over your eyeballs. The heels of your hands should be resting on your cheekbones and your fingertips on your forehead. Make sure the palms of your hands aren’t touching your eyes”.
You need to make sure that your eyes are completely covered and in complete darkness. Maintain this darkness until you can perceive it behind your closed eyelids. Only then can your photoreceptor cells switch off, allowing your eyes to relax.
Last but not least, there’s eye yoga
According to William Bates, the inventor of eye training, lots of exercise regimes are based on sequences of movement, so we should move our eyes too. The goal of eye yoga is to strengthen your eye muscles and expand your field of vision. Move your eyes slowly to the left and right, up and down, and diagonally to the top right and bottom left and vice versa.
Your gaze should alternately point upwards towards your eyebrows and down towards your nose. Switch your gaze like this up to ten times and then look alternately to the left and right. Then look straight ahead, close your eyes and relax. If you are working at a screen for long periods of time, you should also adapt your eyes, that is to say focus your eyes in order to adjust the refractive power of the eye lens. This allows you to focus on things at different distances. The exercise is very simple. Place your hand over one eye, and slowly move your other hand back and forth in front of your face, following it with your gaze. Repeat the exercise with the other eye.
The goal of all eye exercises is to relieve strain on your eyes in order to avoid office eye syndrome. Remember, eye training cannot replace wearing glasses or visiting an ophthalmologist.
Caution: the information contained in this article is in no way a substitute for professional advice or treatment by trained and qualified ophthalmologists. Posts on the medisana blog cannot and must not be used to make independent diagnoses or to start treatments.