Counterknowledge: Will wearing my glasses make my eyes worse?

29 01 2013

The answer:  NO!

Countless patients, particularly parents of my pediatric patients, report reduced wearing time or frequency of spectacle wear in order to prevent their eyes from weakening.  Somehow, the urban legend that ‘wearing glasses too much will make my eyes worse’ has perpetuated through the hallows of time and has blossomed into a weed that I and many colleagues are constantly trying to eradicate through education.

Let’s look at an analogy – Does wearing your shoes 2 sizes too big make your feet bigger?  Does not wearing shoes make it easier for you to walk?  Does making it easier for you to walk make your legs weaker?  These all seem like ridiculous questions, but it is this rationale that people rely on when thinking about wearing eye correction.  It just isn’t true or supported by scientific evidence.

Now there is some evidence that a low level of uncorrected nearsightedness (myopia) may be beneficial for close work and not using eye correction for these instances may have a positive impact on myopic progression, however by and large this theory is still being tested.

Some people who have binocular vision development issues require more intensive direction as to when and when NOT to wear glasses.  In these cases your eye doctor will communicate this specifically during your examination.

When parents unilaterally make the choice to reduce the wearing schedule for their kids based on this urban myth,the effects on visual development and subsequent academic performance can be significant.  80% of our learning comes from visual learning and not having optimal vision has far reaching, and a well documented negative impact on educational development.  Often I hear “my child’s eyes are lazy so I just want them to work harder.”  My advice to anyone that has said this or been told this is to really think about this concept.  More importantly, as eye doctors our goal is to use evidence based approaches in tandem with our extensive knowledge of the visual system to make a judgement on how to treat your eyes and vision.  The recommendations of your eye doctor are not made on a whim and are prescribed for your specific visual system based on your exam findings.

Bottom line – Wear them and wear them often.  Give your brain the vision it craves.  The clearer an image is focused on the retina, the better the resolution of the visual stimulus to the brain.  This means that the neural network developing between the photoreceptors in the eye to the optic nerve to your brain is more intricate and allows a better potential for vision.  Some people end up feeling their uncorrected vision becomes worse after wearing glasses for some time.  What is actually happening is your brain is getting used to 20/20 and is preferring it.

  • A quick test:  To know if your vision is truly getting worse try this.  Put your glasses on and stand 6 kitchen tiles away from your digital clock on the microwave or stove.  Cover each eye and read the time.  Use this as your baseline and compare it monthly in exactly the same manner.  If the clock becomes blurry WITH GLASSES ON, then your vision has changed.

To play devil’s advocate I understand that it is conceivable that because your doctor dispenses glasses that you may consider his or her recommendation to wear them self-serving.  If you feel this is the case, then seek out a second opinion and validate (or rule out) your concern.  Steering yours or your child’s visual management based on misinformation is dangerous, no matter how many times you read it on the internet or have friends that ‘have the same eye problem.’  No two eyes are the same – not even your own!

Here are some points to clarify with your doctor when being prescribed glasses:

  • Frequency and Duration: When and for how long should I wear them?
  • Alternatives:  What other vision correction options do I have?  Contact lenses?
  • Adaptation:  What are normal symptoms should I expect when wearing my glasses for the first time?  What is considered abnormal?

sidenoteSideNote: Online shopping

The next time you consider purchasing your eye wear online, consider this:  Who is responsible if something goes wrong?  What value do you place on the service that comes along with your eye wear.  For some, this point may be moot however anyone that has had trouble adapting to the vision of a new pair of glasses or a new snug frame will tell you the value of having your optometrist or optician provide the ophthalmic service is worth it.  If you’re willing to give up service then consider a September 2011 study by a research professor at Pacific University College of Optometry in Oregon that found that 44.8% of eyewear ordered online FAILED at least one parameter of optical or impact testing (Click here to see study).

Dr. Richard Maharaj OD, FAAO

Director of Optometry,

eyeLABS Inc.

twitter: @eyelabsinc




2 responses

30 11 2014

When I wear my prescription glasses my eyesight is worse after I take them off. It is easy to test this by picking words at a far distance like a street sign or billboard before putting on the glasses. I will make note of how clear it is and then wear my glasses for an extended period of time. After I remove the glasses the words I noted are far more blurry than they were before I wore my glasses. This appears to be a temporary effect from the glasses. I chalked it up to my eyes being dependent on the glasses and it took them a while to learn to adjust without them. However, given this is a repeatable and testable result I concluded that it is likely that prolonged or everyday continuous use of glasses would possibly weaken my eyes ability to adjust without them, making the effect permanent. So I only wear my glasses when absolutely necessary.

1 04 2015

Poor analogy – making it easier to walk would make your legs weaker if you walked the same amount. For example, if you had weights on your legs, it would be much more difficult to walk; remove those weights and it would be easier to walk, but your leg muscles would shrink.

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