Dr. Rick Graebe can say it no more directly – “Almost all eye muscle surgeries are unnecessary.”
That’s quite a statement considering that each year approximately 1.2 million are performed in the U.S. at a cost of up to $12,000 per surgery.
“I would say that 85%-95% of all eye muscle surgeries are unnecessary and potentially dangerous. And most of those surgeries are done on children,” said Graebe, a Versailles optometrist whose specialty is Vision Therapy, a kind of physical therapy for the eyes and brain.
“Facts are facts,” Graebe says. “About two-thirds of all eye muscle surgeries need to be re-done because they don’t get the desired results.”
One Graebe patient – a 49-year-old who had eight eye surgeries and still had problems with depth perception and eye turning – improved dramatically after a series of Vision Therapy treatments.
“That’s because eye surgery addresses only the symptoms not the cause,” Graebe says. “The underlying cause is that the brain has not yet learned how to use the two eyes as a team, not that there is something wrong with the eye muscles.”
By the age of 3, up to 5% of children experience a drifting or turned-in eye.
Frequently, parents are told that surgery is necessary immediately or the problem is irreversible.
“I can’t find any evidence to back up this urgency,” Graebe says.
The truth, he says, is that no one is born knowing how to use their eyes together. This is a learned, developmen-tal skill in which the brain learns to process what the eyes see, and how to point the eyes together as a team.
The goal of eye muscle surgery is to get the eyes to look and appear straight, and appear to work together. The result often turns out to be more cosmetic than therapeutic.
That’s why Vision Therapy works so well – it is all about teaching the brain how to better control the eyes.
Graebe compares the situation to a child with poor penmanship.
“A child would be encouraged to practice writing or even receive occupational therapy,” he says. “No one would recommend hand surgery.
“It breaks my heart to see families go through this emotional trauma and their children don’t get better.
“I’ve had so many patients who had surgery say, ‘I wish I knew about this before.’”