Is My Nearsightedness Inherited?

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Originally appeared in
Earth Star Magazine November/December 2005
Rosemary Gaddum Gordon, D.B.O., M.A.

When I was thirteen I was given my first pair of glasses. I asked the question most of us have, “How did I become nearsighted?” My ophthalmologist told me I had inherited it along with my brown eyes and there was nothing I could do about it. End of story. Since then I discovered there is more to the story. Not only has my eyesight recovered but several interesting studies have been done that point to other factors that impact our vision.

Two studies are of particular importance. One examined the vision of adult identical twins and found that very few of them wear the same glasses prescription, which if inherited anatomy were the sole cause of nearsightedness, we would think they would. Secondly, the vision of three generations of Inuits was measured and compared. While over half the children were nearsighted, very few of the parents and none of the grandparents were nearsighted. The major life-style changes which had occurred during the previous thirty years included the introduction of western methods of education, electricity and canned foods. From this we could wonder about several different possible causes. We could look at how western education compares to their previous forms of schooling. We could look at how having electric lights in a home changes a family’s way of life and we could explore what the addition of canned foods does to a peoples’ diets.

I am no expert on educational methods, but thinking about my and my children’s schooling, it required long hours looking at books and papers. If I imagine what the introduction of electric lights might do, I think of less sleep and more time looking at things within the walls of the house, perhaps more time sewing or reading. So the children seem to spend less time looking into the far distance and possibly sleeping, than did their parents and grandparents.

The nutritional aspects we will explore another time and, of course, emotional and mental stress play an important role, as we have been exploring lately in this column. But, how we use our eyes is vital. Our eyes muscles are very adaptable; they develop according to what we do. As muscles become thicker and stronger in response to constant near work and are not given stretching time, they lose their elasticity. There is no problem with eye muscles becoming stronger, but we do want them to retain their elasticity, otherwise they will lose some of their range of motion. Since the eyes are focused by muscles, this can restrict our range of focus. So, if we read for hours without looking in the distance, when we do look up it takes a while for the distant images to become clear. That adjustment time can take longer and longer until it takes too long and if we don’t change something about how we are using our eyes, we get glasses.

We do inherit our eyes from our parents but how we see the world depends on many other factors. Remember to go outside and spend time looking at what is on the horizon; focus in the distance every five minutes when you are doing any kind of near work and get enough sleep and rest. You and your eyes will be much happier.

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