Do you have concerns about your children’s eyesight? Perhaps they’re having trouble following classroom lessons. Maybe they’re finding it harder to enjoy their favorite TV shows or movies.
If so, you’re not alone. Around the world, there is mounting concern about the growing prevalence of nearsightedness — also called myopia.
Currently about 34% of world’s population is nearsighted, and a recent study published in the Ophthalmology journal predicts that by 2050, 4.8 billion people, or 49.8% of the world’s population, will be diagnosed with myopia, compared with only 2 billion (28.3%) in 2010.
- In the 1970s, only 25% of U.S. adults were nearsighted. By 2004, that number had ballooned to 42%.
- More recent data estimates that 30% to 40% of adults in the U.S. and Europe have myopia.
- In the 1960s, only 7.2% of children in the UK were nearsighted. Today more than twice that number, 16.4%, have myopia.
- At least 80% of Asian adults are nearsighted, and 96.5% of children under 20 in South Korea.
What causes of myopia are behind this trend? What are the long-term risks to vision health for nearsighted people? And what can you do now to protect your children’s vision — and maybe your own?
What Is Myopia (Nearsightedness)?
Myopia — the formal name for nearsightedness or shortsightedness — is a refractive disorder in which the patient can see close up objects clearly, but distant objects appear blurred. It ranges from mild to severe and can interfere with driving, watching TV, or going to movies, concerts, or sporting events. For students, myopia can make it harder to participate in classroom activities.
The condition usually first appears between the ages of 8 and 12, although it can develop in adults. Once it occurs, nearsightedness typically progresses throughout the teen years until the age of 20. Most patients experience little change in vision between the ages of 20 and 40.
What Causes Myopia?
Many contributing factors have emerged as culprits in the development of nearsightedness.
- Inheritance. If one or both parents are nearsighted, children have a greater risk. One study found that children with one myopic parent are 3 times more likely to be nearsighted, while those with two myopic parents are 7 times more likely to be nearsighted.
- Health issues. People with diabetes may have a greater risk of developing nearsightedness. Elevated blood sugar can interfere with a person’s vision. Individuals in the early stages of cataracts may also experience myopia symptoms.
- Excessive near-vision activities. Prolonged close-up activities like reading, texting, or working on a computer can produce both temporary nearsightedness — called “pseudo myopia” — and increase the risk of permanent nearsightedness.
Researchers are debating how much digital communication technologies have contributed to more people needing contacts, eyeglasses, and other treatments for correcting myopia.
Two studies — one published in the Ophthalmology journal, along with a separate study from Ulster University — pointed out that people of all ages, especially children, are heavy users of smartphones, tablets, and computers. The authors of these studies contend that the increase in “screen time” has contributed to the increase in nearsightedness across all regions of the world.
However, a third study from the College of Optometry at Ohio State University found no association between the amount of time children spent using screens and their likelihood of developing nearsightedness. The OSU study did, however, agree with the Ophthalmology report that too little time outdoors may also contribute.
Long Term Risk Factors of High Myopia
All forms of nearsightedness can increase the risk of more significant vision problems. High myopia, in particular, can lead to holes and tears in the retina, which can cause more severe eye problems.
- Cataracts. Nearsighted individuals have greater odds of developing cataracts and also tend to develop it sooner. Korean research found that cataracts in people with high myopia also has higher comorbidity with other eye problems such as retinal detachment, and surgery for cataracts is less effective for high myopia patients than for other individuals.
- Glaucoma. Nearsighted patients in Australia were found to have between two and three times the risk of glaucoma when compared to those with normal vision. Among Chinese adults 40 or older, those with high myopia were twice as likely to have glaucoma compared with those with moderate myopia, more than 3 times as likely as those with mild myopia, and 4.2 to 7.6 times more likely than those with normal vision.
- Retinal detachment. More than half (55%) of retinal detachments not caused by trauma are caused by myopia. Research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that even mild myopia was associated with a 4 times greater risk of retinal detachment. With moderate to high myopia, the risk increases by 10 times compared to normal eyes.
How to Prevent and Control
Typically a prescription for contact lenses or glasses will increase as children grow, so the teen years are the perfect time to stop this progression from happening. In addition to traditional eyeglasses and contact lenses, a variety of options for myopia treatment are emerging.
- Regular testing. A regular eye exam, beginning in early childhood and continuing through the teens, is your best bet for catching myopia early. Visiting your optometrist for an eye test will make it easier to identify the right corrective treatment for your child and prevent or minimize long-term consequences.
- 20/20/20 Rule. The basic rule of thumb here is to take a break from close-up activities. If your kids are spending long periods of time using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, encourage them to take a break every 20 minutes, by looking at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This relaxes the eyes, reducing their risk of adapting to their near environment and becoming myopic. Besides the 20/20/20 rule, spending time playing outside, without electronic devices, is another way to give the eyes a break from prolonged close-up activity and control myopia. By the way, these are great habits for adults and kids alike.
- Multifocal contact lenses and corneal reshaping. Both of these options help patients by changing the optics of how the eye is seeing to help put a damper on the progression of myopia.
Multifocal contact lenses used for myopia control help some patients by blurring out the periphery while maintaining a clear center view. With corneal reshaping, also called orthokeratology, or Ortho-K, some children with nearsighted vision can wear specially designed contact lenses at night to gently reshape the cornea at night. This changes how light is focused and can reduce the severity of myopia.
- Atropine eye drops. Growing evidence indicates that low-dose atropine eye drops may be a good option for myopia correction because it interferes with the abnormal elongation of the eyeball that can cause nearsightedness. If this treatment becomes more widely available for individuals with high myopia, it could reduce their risk of long-term vision problems.
If you have questions about myopia in children — or in yourself — contact us for an appointment at Springfield Family Vision. Dr. Katie looks forward to helping you find the right vision solution for your needs.