Orthoptics are eye exercises designed to treat disorders of the muscles attached to the outsides of the eyes. These disorders include strabismus (cross-eyedness, wall-eyedness, and other misalignments), amblyopia (lazy eye), convergence insufficiency, accomodative esotropia, and double vision. Orthoptists are eye care specialists who design treatment programs for patients with these conditions.
There are other muscles inside the eyes that change the shape of the lens to focus on objects at different distances. However, the length of the eyeball and the shape of the cornea may be out of range for what the lens can do. Near-sightedness, far-sightedness, astigmatism, and presbyopia (loss of reading vision with age) are called refractive errors. Over the years, several researchers have designed eye exercise programs to treat refractive errors. Do they work?
Dr. William H. Bates published “The Care of Imperfect Eyesight by Treatment Without Glasses” in 1920, offering a program of exercises to correct refractive errors. According to Dr. Melvin L. Rubin, most of these were harmless but useless. The one dangerous exercise promoted by Dr. Bates was looking directly at the sun “so that the beneficial rays may bathe the retina”. Eye doctors today advise us to never look at the sun, even with welder's goggles during an eclipse.
Other eye exercise programs, very similar to the original one proposed by Bates, have been published by Harold Peppard, Cecil Price, Ralph MacFayden, and others. According to Dr. Rubin, these are equally worthless.
So the bad news about refractive eye exercises is that they don't make your eyes better. The good news is that very few things will make your refraction worse. Dr. Rubin offers a long list of “myths and old wives' tales” about the eyes. These include warnings that your eyes will be harmed if you read in poor light, hold reading material too close, sit too close to the television, use your eyes too much, wear someone else's glasses, wear glasses all the time, cross your eyes, or work on the computer too much. Not true, says Dr. Rubin. The main thing you should do to take care of your eyes is to get annual check-ups to spot early stages of glaucoma and other treatable eye diseases.
Melvin L. Rubin, MD, and Lawrence A. Winograd, MD, “Taking Care of Your Eyes”, Triad Publishing Co., 2003.
Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.