The Forest for the Trees

The rise of computer vision syndrome and the advantages of individualizing eye care treatment

By Eddie Childs


As our society increasingly finds ways to incorporate PCs, tablets, smartphones and e-readers into daily routines, the incidence of eye-related problems among Americans is growing proportionally. This phenomenon probably won’t come as much of a surprise to most readers considering that some recent studies have determined that many Americans spend an average of almost 60 hours a week interacting with electronic media. 

Otherwise known as “digital eyestrain,” computer vision syndrome (CVS) is becoming a more and more common affliction that can have serious repercussions both for students and professionals. In fact, it’s now the foremost computing-related health complaint in the nation. Significantly, CVS has become even more common than carpal-tunnel syndrome. 

As such eye problems become increasingly prevalent, so too do theories on how to treat them. As a result, many health care professionals are struggling to determine how to comprehensively care for their patients. According to some emerging theories, the answer may ultimately lie in using all the available tools to treat eye problems, like CVS, on a case-by-case basis. 

Function and Structure

According to Marc Grossman, O.D.—an optometrist and lecturer for 32 years who holds a license in acupuncture and Chinese medicine, in addition to having written several books on eye care—part of the reason for the proliferation of eye problems like CVS may lie in the roots of human evolution itself. Simply put, contemporary society’s media-saturated lifestyle stands in stark contrast to humanity’s much longer heritage as hunter-gatherers.

“Function affects structure, and sustained close work is probably the main reason why eyesight goes bad,” explains Grossman. “The eyes just weren’t made to do sustained close work; it’s very much the same way that your spine wasn’t made to carry 60 pounds of rice on your back every day, which could eventually affect its curvature. There’s a reason why probably 90 percent of accountants and lawyers are near-sighted, but less than 10 percent of professional farmers are near-sighted; because farmers work on the horizon all day, and accountants and lawyers work up close all day.” 

Of course, the idea of “close work” as it relates to eyestrain isn’t anything new. In fact, this syndrome essentially has been a byproduct of humanity’s relationship with the written word since its very inception. However, Grossman says, the difference lies specifically in how computer screens deliver light to the human eye. 

“When you’re working on computers now, you’ve got this whole electro-magnetic frequency (EMF) aspect to that work as well,” says Grossman. “So these EMFs that emanate from these screens also can affect our eyes, our immune systems and our health. But again, it’s mostly the concentrated close work, and whether working on computers or iPads or smartphones, our eyes are looking at close work—arm’s length or closer—more than we ever have in our society, and in my opinion, that’s leading to a prevalence in reduced vision and eyesight problems.” 

Above all else, Grossman says that the simple practice of taking regular breaks can be one of the most important things when working on the computer or doing lots of eye-work. To this end, a range of mobile phone and tablet apps exist that have been designed to remind users to do this. 

“Look out the window, stretch your body, rub your hands together and palm your eyes; [in the Bates method] there’s an exercise called ‘palming’ that helps to relax your eyes,” he explains. “You want to do anything to relax the eyes to break up that sustained close work, so breaks are very important; and yes, it’s good to do eye exercises as well as regular physical exercises. Really, anything you can do to increase your circulation is going to help.” 

Behind the Condition

With his own patients, Grossman says he doesn’t particularly concentrate on a person’s specific condition—regardless of whether it’s CVS, glaucoma, macular degeneration or cataracts. Instead, he believes that “looking at the person behind the condition” is a better tactic for comprehensively treating various eye problems. 

“I’m looking at the underlying pattern of what may cause this eye condition to happen,” he says. “Sometimes it’s nutritional, emotional or genetic. Other times, it can be the possible alignment of the spine and the neck can be off—all of that can affect vision. All those different aspects of the underlying pattern behind why the condition has emerged are what I’m examining when caring for a patient.” 

In this capacity, Grossman works in a large eye clinic with seven other eye doctors; significantly, one of his partners is a DC, so he often looks at ways to treat vision conditions naturally. To that end, Grossman also maintains a 300-page website on natural ways of treating eye conditions called natural-eyecare.com. In fact, Grossman says he will often send his patients to a DC before he ever begins treatment, even if his plan of treatment will ultimately involve fitting someone for glasses or a surgical method like lasik. 

“I don’t even treat until they’ve gone and seen a DC first because a lot of the cranial nerves and the nerves that go to the eye increasing access to our vision will be affected by issues of the neck and the back,” he explains. “If your neck is all out of whack, I don’t feel your treatment will be effective. So I totally believe in the power of chiropractic care as an adjunct to eye care treatment, and I feel that any eye doctor who fails to take advantage of [Chiropractic] isn’t treating his or her patient as well as he or she could be. And I’m saying this based on clinical experience in my own practice.” 

In terms of examining the individual behind a condition like CVS, Grossman also says one’s nutritional habits and diet can be another significant factor contributing to various eye conditions. “I just read a study that 33 percent of people over the age 50 [in the U.S.] are taking medication for diabetes, high cholesterol or hypertension,” he says. “Well, all of those conditions have vision symptoms associated with them, so you can see how this has to do with us not taking care of ourselves—from diet to exercise—and that can cause problems in our vision.”

The Bates Method

When Grossman looks at an overall treatment plan for issues like CVS, he says he often incorporates elements of the Bates method. Though perhaps controversial in some circles, this method of eye exercises and visual relaxation was discovered in the late 1800s by ophthalmologist William H. Bates to help patients improve eyesight without mechanical correction or surgeries. 

“I totally believe in the Bates method, and I’ve improved my own eyesight 70 to 80 percent using aspects of it plus some other types of eye exercises that I’ve developed,” he says. “I don’t just do the Bates system, though, specifically because three people can show up with the same eye problem, and I have to treat them all differently because of their individual underlying reason.” 

Grossman says that while the Bates method contains very good tenets, exercises and techniques, he believes the controversy surrounding it lies in the fact that it fails to “individualize” its treatment for various patients. “You know, if you pick up a book on the Bates method, you’re not getting a comprehensive treatment,” he says. “I say to some people, ‘Don’t even bother doing the exercises for your condition. It’s a waste of time and money.’ But I say that because I understand the condition and I’ve done the right testing. Then with some other patients, I say, ‘Totally, go for the Bates method. It’s going to be a really good idea.’ In the end, the Bates method isn’t going to hurt anybody, unless they aren’t getting proper medical care.”

As proponents of the Bates method have often observed, the treatment has been documented to help some individuals make seemingly miraculous strides in regaining their eyesight. One of the most notable of these cases is Meir Schneider, Ph.D., who was legally blind as a child and—through diligent application of the Bates method—has since been able to steadily improve his vision to a point where he now holds an unrestricted California driver’s license. For Grossman, though, the Bates method is a pivotal portion of a larger range or regimen of treatments that he would make available to patients. “It’s part of my treatment plan, but it isn’t the whole thing,” he says. “And some people have gotten better just by using the Bates method, so I’m not saying that it can’t be possible. I’m just saying that, for my patients, it’s part of the whole treatment plan.” 

The Role of Modern Technology

As stories of the development of light-powered bionic eyes are consistently making headlines around the world, modern technology is clearly making leaps and bounds in terms of how health care professionals approach the eyes. This phenomenon not only extends to prosthetics and surgeries but also to the very manner in which a diagnosis can be performed. 

“We’re able to take three-dimensional pictures of every single layer of the macula,” says Grossman. “We can now see if the problem is anywhere from the eye to the brain, so modern technology has done amazing things in helping to diagnose the specific areas of different eye problems. And when we’re better able to do a differential diagnosis, it can obviously help our treatments be more effective.” 

Grossman says that other advancements on the horizon include increasingly precise lasers for use on cataracts and the development of retinal implants to help cure macular degeneration in the future. “One of the reasons I joined this group practice was so I could have all these [tools], and I couldn’t afford them on my own,” he says. “You know, it’s phenomenal what modern technology has done in terms of helping with eye problems and assisting with diagnosis. That’s why you have groups today, so a collective of eye doctors can share the expense.” 

However, he explains, the various things that can be achieved purely through technological advancements only constitute part of a greater whole when it comes to determining a comprehensive course of treatment—which can include chiropractic care, osteopathic or nutritional treatment, medication or surgery. “You have to look at each patient as an individual and see his or her overall system,” he says, “and then you have figure out the right course of action to achieve the best results.”