Could eye-exercises be the answer to blindness?

University of Queensland researchers believe they might be onto something that could have far reaching impacts on the future eye sight of millions of people around the world.

While studying the “blind spot” in every human eye, the researchers may have found a way to improve the treatment of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in Western countries.

You’ve probably never noticed, but each of us has a blind spot in each eye. That’s because the optic nerve that sends visual signals to the brain must pass through the retina, which creates a hole in that light-sensitive layer of tissue. When images project to that precise location, we miss them – hence the blind spot.

The UQ researchers discovered that this blind spot can be effectively “shrunk” with training.

The training, which involved following a drifting waveform, yielded around a 10 per cent improvement. Training on one eye did not transfer to the blind spot in the untrained eye, suggesting that the improvement wasn’t simply a matter of practising the task.

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If training protocols can reduce blindness associated with the physiological blind spot, they might prove similarly effective in other cases of blindness. Such training protocols might also be used to assist in the recovery of vision along with other developing technologies, such as the bionic eye or retinal stem cell therapy.

Study author Paul Miller says they plan to further optimise their training protocol in normally sighted people around the physiological blind spot and to then test its use in people with age-related macular degeneration.

Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision impairment in people aged over 40 years in Australia. It affects the macular region of the retina, which is used for straight-ahead sight. Activities which rely on the macula functioning well are reading, writing, looking at detailed objects, and colour vision.