As optometrists, we often encounter patients who have formed the somewhat entrenched opinion that glasses will make their eyes or the eyes of their children weaker. These conversations typically feel more emotional than the majority of dialogues that we have in the exam room and take a certain degree of finesse to navigate. In fact, many of these conversations occur outside of the exam room – with parents who fear bringing their children for an exam and being sold an “unnatural” product. The opinions and thoughts that we all hold very much define the world that we live in – and citing studies or paternalistic dialogue often does very little to change these firmly held beliefs.
As a clinician in Kelowna who derives no income from the sale of glasses or contact lenses, I can tell you without bias, that glasses – when prescribed after factoring all aspects of visual alignment and function – do not weaken your eyes. There are certain adaptive events that do occur with the use of glasses – but this adaptation is often necessary to ensure that your child is able to learn, develop and grow. This is not a responsibility that we take lightly, knowing the power that refractive lenses can have on development. As Optometrists, we are often presented with the challenging task of observing a 30-60 minute snap-shot of a patient’s visual function and asked to provide a supportive visual device to wear for what commonly works out to be almost 730 days. This is not an easy task! We do not function the same on each of these days. Our visual demands change daily, and often many times throughout the day. And commonly, what we DO on these days will affect what supportive or assistive lenses would be best.
When we prescribe lenses for near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism it is therefore important to have a discussion about why the lenses are being advised and for what tasks they will be most suitable for. Consider a student for example – often the lens that will work best for the classroom work may not be best for reading. Understanding that our visual demands change based on the distance we work is therefore a discussion that I find imperative at almost every exam.
In a blog with this title, it would be disingenuous of me to not touch on the undeniable adaptations that occur when glasses are worn. The improved clarity or visual efficiency with glasses does commonly make it more challenging for patients to accept the comparative blur or visual inefficiency when their glasses are removed. This often works out to be a necessary side-effect mind you, as the alternative of training peripheral blur tolerance or fighting through the discomfort – which is what the majority of the “make your eyes better naturally” campaigns do – leave children working much harder than they should to acquire the vital information that they need.
As Optometrists, our role when prescribing glasses is to improve the efficiency and balance of our patient’s visual systems – it really is as simple as that. With online sales and the commoditization of glasses and contact lenses, it is easy to forget that glasses are one the most direct and powerful ways that we can immediately impact our central nervous system. How exactly we do this is a decision that each clinician has to make at each and every appointment. For myself, glasses are typically a tool that I use to improve visual efficiency, clarity or to guide some aspect of visual function or development in our therapy room. They are a tool in the toolbox that I use for ensuring that my patients leave our office with the most efficient visual systems they are capable of. With visual information making up nearly 70% of ALL the incoming sensory information that we acquire throughout the day, efficiency of visual function (and not simply clarity) is key to guiding the development of many of our bodies’ other sensory and motor systems. We currently live in a near-centred world (I.e. phones, iPads, computers) that presents very real visual stress that we now must factor into our decision making and guidance. With changing times and these added visual stressors, vilifying glasses wear as the cause of deteriorating vision is often a misinformed belief – and speaks to someone in need of a shift in understanding or perspective. Should you know of anyone in your life who feels this way, feel free to pass along our contact form – we’d be happy to guide them.
Until next month,
Paul Rollett, OD