What Exactly Is Vision Therapy?

Some eye conditions cannot be corrected by spectacles or contact lenses.

Surgery may be able to correct some of them, but what if we tell you there is another means of treatment that is non-invasive—and one that works?

Vision therapy (or vision training) is a vision program that we design for people to help remediate and enhance their visual abilities and functions. It consists of a sequence of eye exercises designed to help your eyes work more efficiently so that you can perform daily tasks such as reading and writing more efficiently.

Vision therapy is for the eyes what physical therapy is for the body.

Dr Alex Du, behavioral optometrist at Eyecare Plus Kareela, states, “Glasses and contact lenses simply correct how well you can see, while eye surgery alters the anatomy of the eye or surrounding muscles.

“Vision therapy, on the other hand, aims to ‘teach’ the visual system to correct itself. Through repetition and varied exercises, the eyes can often be taught the skills necessary for them to function properly.”

Vision therapy is mainly used to

  • treat existing visual problems such as lazy eyes, eye alignment and coordination difficulties, poor focusing, inadequate hand-eye coordination and immature perceptual development
  • enhance the efficiency and hence comfort of the visual system
  • help prevent some vision problems

Individualised Therapy for Specific Visual Needs

We asked Dr Alex Du, “How do you determine which type of vision therapy is most beneficial for certain eye conditions?”

Alex Du states, “Every individual will get a different vision therapy program and schedule designed to suit their specific needs and issues. The vision therapist will set a series of goals and will perform a full assessment for a baseline result.

“There are many different ways to perform vision therapy—through basic means such as spectacles with training lenses, prisms or different training activities.

Alex Du continues, “The frequency and amount of home therapy and duration will depend on the visual issue being treated and the specific needs of the patient. It is not used to strengthen eye muscles, but more to improve the coordination and allow for a more efficient functioning of the visual system.

“Before we recommend vision therapy to our patients, we will perform a comprehensive eye test and binocular vision evaluation to identify for visual conditions that may benefit from vision therapy.”

Some common symptoms of individuals who may benefit from VT includes:

  • Headache
  • Eye strain with near tasks (e.g., reading, writing, computer work)
  • Fluctuating vision
  • Blurry distance vision after prolonged close work
  • Losing place when reading
  • Re-reading lines and/or losing concentration when reading
  • Words or letters seem to jump around on the page

Does Vision Therapy Work?

Definitely! For many decades, developmental and behavioural optometrists have been practicing vision therapy and have successfully helped patients with visual issues that cannot be treated successfully with spectacles, contact lenses or surgery alone.

Conditions such as strabismus (eye turn) and amblyopia (lazy eye) have been found to respond well to vision therapy, and patients with eye teaming, tracking and focusing difficulties have shown significant improvement in their visual efficiency. Professional studies indicate vision therapy can also help reduce symptoms of computer vision syndrome from people who spend large amounts of time on electronic devices such as iPads and cell phones.

Recently, a National Eye Institute (NEI) funded study using multi-centre, randomized, double-blind clinical trials showed that for a condition called convergence insufficiency (eye teaming difficulty), office-based vision therapy was successful in 75% of patients and resulted in normal or significantly improved symptoms, with office-based therapy found to be more effective than home-based and placebo therapy in children. A combination of in-office therapy reinforced by home exercises proved to be even more beneficial.