WHEN the human eye begins to falter, whether in adults or in the youngest children, the conventional method of treatment is to call in the assistance of compensating lenses. The claim that is made for these lenses is that they neutralize the effects or symptoms of the conditions which are present as the cause of the failing function.
If it is necessary for men, women, and children who are wearing glasses to continue to wear them, let us hope they will all secure the best possible fit. But if it is possible to correct the fault that is interfering with normal vision, why do we not relieve the abnormal condition, instead of ignoring the eye, and using glass lenses instead? During hundreds of thousands of years the human eye developed into the most marvelous and the most necessary of the sense organs. Upon what grounds has it come to be an accepted belief that there is no possible way to cure an abnormal function in the mechanism of vision, even though abnormal functions and diseased conditions are being cured in every other part of the body?
There is a prevalent impression in the public mind that when any difficulty in seeing becomes apparent, there is no other help available but wearing of artificial lenses. This vague consciousness might be spoken of as a belief. But it is not a belief that is founded on any knowledge of the subject. The public mind knows very little of the factors or the mechanism of vision; it asks no questions, and it does not even consider the plain facts which are generally known. Just a little consideration of the many simple, established, obvious aspects of this most vital question arouses an astonishing reaction to a situation which is of national importance.
Whence comes this vast ignorance about the impending calamity to the power of vision? Why is the United States fast becoming a nation helpless in its daily life unless it has a pair of artificial lenses attached to its eyes? Why have the people come to believe this anomalous misinformation, as though it were the very truth?
Where there is a great cloud of smoke one knows there is a fire. This habit of wearing glasses, in this country of ours, out of all proportion greater and worse than in any other country, is growing like the size of a large ball of snow rolling down a hill. There are many factors at work in this strange development. But the chief factor is the activity of a vast modern sales organization, which is using all the devices of psychological salesmanship to persuade the population of the country that the only relief they can hope for, when their eyes begin to falter, is the life-long dependence upon artificial lenses. This propaganda even goes beyond that and warns now that those whose eyes are showing no signs of failure, should hurry and put on glasses anyhow—even though it is well known that eyes always grow more dependent after glasses are imposed on them, and they rarely ever relinquish them once they are attached.
But if it has been decided by the medical profession that this artificial aid is the only known method of relief, would it not be wise to consider the import of this final answer from the men upon whom we must rely for whatever help is to come in this most serious extremity?
If further search for relief is to cease, the situation is a promise certainly of the progressive degeneration of the human eye. That is the law. The glass lens will become the master of the lens in the eye. Just as the wearer is to become the property of the lens maker, so the eye is to become the slave of the glass lens. We are beginning already to see the warrant for such a statement in the rapidly increasing use of artificial lenses. In our own country this custom of wearing lenses is becoming a contagious habit. Furnishing the glasses has become a tremendous enterprise.
In the great war it was found necessary to lower by half, the standards for vision required of soldiers. These standards were already well below those required for average normal vision. Having allowed for the use of lenses, the United States Army found it necessary to accept men with only one-fifth normal vision without lenses, if one eye could be brought up to one-half normal vision with glasses.
Some have estimated that of those in civilized life today over twenty-one years of age, only one in ten has normal sight. Personally I have met many, mostly children, however, who can read readily at fifteen or twenty feet the line required to be read at ten. At forty years of age there are very few without visual defects.
This problem of defective vision has been disturbing the medical profession for a century. In Germany the Imperial Government tried for years to stop the increase of the use of glasses. The effort failed completely. But in Germany today many are having success with their eyes, in an organized system of schools for the improvement of vision. In a translation into English of an article in a German medical magazine published in Leipzig, the principles upon which their work is founded are credited specifically to the discoveries of Dr. Bates.
As illustrations of their success, it is stated that a class of young men was received in the army who were nearsighted because their eyes had been habituated to functioning with work which demanded nearsighted vision. At first they could not adjust their eyes to distant objects. It very soon developed, however, that the danger involved by that so impressed their minds that their eyes learned to see what was necessary. A soldier was such a good marksman that he was detailed as a sharpshooter. This involved an examination of his eyes by a specialist, who fitted him with glasses. Wearing the glasses, his marksmanship became very poor, and he was dropped from the corps. He was taken charge of by a vision school, his glasses were removed, his skill returned, and be was reinstated as a sharpshooter.
England, also, now has the beginning of a similar movement, and gives notice of a School of Eyesight Training in London. It is taking up the work of Dr. Bates in a practical way, on the principles established by him. The children especially are to have the advantage of a training in the scientific and humane use and development of their eyes, instead of being afflicted and obstructed, in their early developing years, with a pair of artificial lenses as an endowment for life.
Commenting on the use of artificial lenses, an ophthalmologist recognized as an international authority, Dr. Sidler-Huguenin of Zurich, Switzerland, writing in 1916, expressed the opinion that lenses and all methods now at our command are of but little avail in preventing either the progress of the error of refraction, or the development of further complications. This commentary was given as the confirmed judgment of a specialist who, during a lifetime of private and clinical practice, was interested especially in finding an answer to the problem of the efficacy of lenses. He reported particularly that with one class of patients, connected with the educational institutions of Zurich, the methods that he prescribed failed to correct the faults in the functioning of their eyes, despite their earnest, faithful, and constant adherence to his instructions.
Those who find it necessary to seek the assistance of glasses seem to take it as a natural thing that their eyes should fail to function in the beginning of life. They rarely have interest enough in the calamity to ask why it happened. If they ask, they are generally told that the cause is what is called eyestrain. No one seems to ask what eyestrain is. No cure is offered for it. So they put on glasses, and generally they seem to feel quite proud about it. It has become so fashionable! As a rule their eyes get weaker, of course, and sooner or later they get a stronger pair of glasses. In many cases the glasses are quite satisfactory, until the eyes get so much worse, and then it is a simple thing to buy another pair in the series of glasses they are going to need. But in many cases the eyes refuse to agree with the glasses, and there is a constant conflict. So what is there to do?
In a recent article describing the very fine course of training, mental and physical, which is given the Naval Academy students during their four years at Annapolis, it is reported that last year the honor man could not be commissioned to the line. He was rejected, after four years of perfect record, because his eyesight had failed slightly in his senior year.
There are those who write that human eyes have not sufficiently evolved, because nature did not intend they should, to meet the situations encountered in the ordinary life of today. If such preposterous assertions were true, consistently all of the naval cadets would suffer the same defeat as that honor man was impaled upon—just because there occurred a temporary faltering of his vision, due plainly to a continued physical and mental stress—which is not necessary. It is a fair question to ask why the eyes of that perfect specimen failed him. It is of vital importance to ask what, if any, deliberate attention is given, in that meticulous curriculum, to the mechanism and the care of the eyes of the cadets.
Dr. W. H. Bates of New York City, many years ago conceived an original idea. Why not cure the abnormal condition of the eye? Why not treat it as the medical profession treats an abnormal condition of any other part of the body? To find the cause and then to devise some means of relief involved research work which led him into fields never explored before. What he discovered will be explained. The system he originated will be described. By following his directions it is possible to correct the faltering function of the eye, and recover normal vision.