Ophthalmology: can you train your eyesight??

If you train diligently, you can achieve a lot – a more flexible body, a stronger back, a better memory. Why not also better eyes? Various announcements on the Internet raise hopes of this kind. "I trained my presbyopia away in just two weeks," one provider there quotes a customer as saying. "With the right eye training you can see again without glasses," advertises another. From nearsightedness and farsightedness to night blindness and dry eyes, there’s hardly a vision problem that can’t at least be reduced. However, opinions differ widely as to whether such successes are possible.

The range of services in the field is very diverse and includes, depending on the case, various relaxation methods such as yoga, Feldenkrais or autogenic training, acupuncture, color therapy, nutrition tips and psychological counseling. "We look at the eye as part of the whole," explains Belen Mercedes Mundemann, president of the Association for Healthy Vision, which brings together 135 vision coaches or. -therapists have joined forces. "We are convinced that there are close interactions between the eye and the whole person." This sets her holistic approach apart from orthodox ophthalmologists, who have a "functional-medical" understanding of the eye, as she says: "That’s a completely different way of looking at things."

Consistent training can, among other things, delay presbyopia and improve myopia. "If you practice every day and have otherwise healthy eyes, you can improve your myopia by two to three diopters after half a year," says Mundemann. In her courses, the alternative practitioner for psychotherapy focuses on age vision and stress-free vision. Here it works with relaxation and perception exercises. "Eye walks" to train the ability to perceive in nature are also part of it.

Ophthalmologists often view vision training skeptically

A pioneer to whom many vision coaches refer is the American ophthalmologist William Bates (1860 – 1931). For him, glasses were only "crutches" that did not eliminate the actual cause of vision problems. He assumed that tension in the eye muscles is the main cause of vision problems and developed various relaxation exercises for the eye and mind to remedy the disorders. They are still the core of many vision training programs today.

Ophthalmologists see the method mostly skeptically. "It’s kind of like trying to train their shoe size," says, for example, Dr. George Eckert, speaker of the professional association of the ophthalmologists. "This is opposed by the human anatomy."Nearsightedness (myopia) is usually due to the fact that the eyeball is too long. The opposite is true for farsightedness. And presbyopia occurs because the lens becomes less elastic over the course of life, making it harder for it to adapt to different distances. Also Dr. Wolfgang Wesemann, former director of the Higher Technical School for Optometry in Cologne, thinks it is impossible that training could change anything about these anatomical conditions. Wesemann has done extensive research on vision training and myopia and has evaluated scientific studies on the subject. They consistently showed that myopia cannot be reduced by various training methods.

Brain learns to improve blurred images

However, the results are not quite so clear-cut: In fact, some participants who had undergone intensive vision training were able to see somewhat more clearly afterwards. But nothing had changed in the refractive power of their eyes, which can be measured objectively. How can it be? "This effect is also seen in nearsighted people who leave their glasses off and accept blurred vision. After a while, they see a little sharper even without glasses," says Wesemann. "This can be explained as the brain learning to improve blurry images."This can be compared with image processing in "Photoshop". "It’s enormous what the brain can do," he points out. But even if visual acuity improves somewhat, it is still far from sufficient to cope well in everyday life and, for example, to drive a car or operate dangerous machines.

Apart from that, Bates’ exercises are actually useful for relaxing – which has a beneficial effect on body, mind and eye. It is undisputed that intensive work at a computer screen can cause problems: "The fixed gaze that you develop reduces the number of blinks. This can lead to dehydration symptoms," says Wesemann. That’s why it’s important to take a break now and then and let your eyes wander around the room, he says. He also recommends that people over the age of 50 wear computer glasses that are optimally adjusted to the workplace. Eye strain can cause eye pain, headaches and neck pain, among other things.

Myopia exacerbated by inner tension

For some people, such relaxation exercises are so effective that they can actually see better – namely if they suffer from "stress-induced pseudomyopia," as Wesemann explains. "These people are under so much internal pressure that myopia is amplified."The ciliary muscles to which the lenses are attached become tense, so that the eye remains adjusted to near vision. "Vision training or relaxation exercises can reduce the stress-induced tone," the expert explains. "It then appears as if myopia has diminished. In reality, however, only the accommodation tone has normalized."

Even Barmer GEK offers a holistic online vision training program that includes Bates relaxation exercises. The offer is aimed at people who work a lot in front of a computer screen. "We get feedback from users that they feel better and more relaxed about their eyes since they started using the vision training," reports press spokesman Axel Wunsch. So even if you can’t "train away" your glasses, eye exercises can obviously be a useful contribution to relaxation and well-being – and that also plays a big role in vision.

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