Myopia is a common eye condition, seen mainly in children and young adults. Also known as near or short-sightedness, myopia means you can see up close, but struggle to see long distances.
What is myopia?
Myopia (also known as short-sightedness or near sightedness) is an eye condition, where objects in the distance (i.e. board at school, TV) appear blurring, but near vision (like a book, iPad or iPhone) is clear.
The usual reason for this is that the eyeball has grown too long. As a child grows, the eye grows also. For some children, due to factors listed below, their eyes grow longer than normal, especially during rapid changes that occur during puberty. This is why myopia generally develops in childhood or in teens.
What causes myopia?
In the last few decades, the rates of myopia have been increasing at a staggering rate. It is predicted that by the year 2050, half the world’s population will be short-sighted. Although the exact cause is unknown, many eye doctors believe the overuse of smartphones and computers could be a leading factor.
If an adult develops myopia, it is typically a mild condition that progresses slowly. However, if a child is diagnosed in the early vulnerable years of development, the condition can progress rapidly if untreated and cause long-term damaging effects of their adult eyesight.
Because myopia is a progressive condition which is associated with a higher risk of eye disease, it’s important to catch it as early as possible and start a prevention plan straight away.
A tailored approach to your child’s needs is critical. Your OCULA optometrist will discuss with you your child’s myopia profile, highlighting the relevant risk factors, and will talk through the treatment options available for your child.
Slowing down and treating myopia
World-recognised researchers have conducted extensive studies into how we can slow down or stop the progression of myopia. This is called Myopia Control.
At this time, orthokeratology is considered the most effective form of myopia control. More info on the specific treatment options can be found here: orthokeratology, soft contact lenses, atropine and specially-designed spectacle lenses.
There are six different treatment options, each with varying degrees of success:
Correcting the myopia with basic glasses
Using special glasses called MyoVision glasses or progressive lenses
Traditional bifocal soft disposable contact lenses
Combination of OrthoK and atropine therapy
Environmental risk factors are unlikely to affect the management pathway, however, they are modifiable and should be considered in view of the overall myopia risk profile.
Tips for modifying environmental risk:
- Spend time outside. Walk the dog, ride a bike, play in the backyard, sit outside in the shade. It is the brightness of natural sunlight, which is beneficial, rather than UV light; but make sure you still take sun protection precautions.
- Take regular breaks from close work. Look away for a minute or so to change your focus, or change your task every 30-60 minutes to alter the demand on your visual efficiency systems.
- Try to limit near tasks (after school or work) to 2 hours per day. This also includes leisure time – make sure it’s not primarily spent on handheld digital devices or other close vision tasks like reading and drawing. On the weekends, keep a balance between inside and outside time, and increase natural lighting.
Is my child at risk of developing myopia?
A child with one myopic parent is three times more likely to develop myopia. If both parents are myopic, a child is six-times more likely. Children who have a genetic and/or environmental predisposition, and who also have a visual system which finds seeing up-close stressful (known as near-point-stress), have a high chance of developing myopia.
Previously, the standard approach to managing myopia development was simply to wait until a child became myopic and then to prescribe glasses to correct the distance focus error. As the child’s eyes inevitably worsened, stronger glasses were prescribed. This was continued until the child’s vision stopped getting worse, often in their late teens or early 20s. The result was often a significant visual disability, only correctable with strong glasses or contact lenses.
With a new and greater understanding of what causes myopia, optometrists are now able to determine whether a child has a risk of becoming myopic, and intervene before a child notices any vision problems. This proactive approach to myopia is known as preventive medicine; it reduces the progression of myopia thereby reducing the eye health risks associated with higher levels of myopia.
If a child does become myopic, treatments are now focussed on addressing not just the distance blur, but also the up-close factors that cause progression, with the aim to slow down or stop myopia getting worse. This often involves addressing the near point stress with bifocal glasses or bifocal contact lenses.
Don’t wait until your child is struggling to see. Book an eye assessment at our Kids Vision clinic and get the most comprehensive eye examination that technology allows.
What factors increase the risk of myopia? Nature (genetics) versus nurture (environment) Genetics: for a long time it has been known that there is a genetic component to myopia. Having one parent who is myopic doubles the risk of myopia, and having two parents increases the risk by 8 times.
Environment: Time spent indoors vs outdoors – more time outdoors seems to result in less myopia. Recommended is 2 hours a day (14 hours a week) outdoors. Time spent on close-up work – more time on reading and on screens is associated with more myopia.
What about the future? If your child is myopic, the likelihood is that it will continue progress as they grow. For some children, this is a slow rate of progression, while others have rapid vision changes. Treatment is tailored to your child’s vision and eyes to attempt to reduce the progression as much as possible.
The risk of myopia progressing becomes less during the later teen years and young adult years, however, whilst the environmental risk factors are still present, the risk remains, albeit low. Hence, for continued effect, treatment needs to continue for as long as there is a risk of myopia increase, which may be through the tertiary study years.
Why is it important to be proactive with myopia? Those with myopia don’t just suffer the hassle of wearing glasses or contact lenses. The longer eyeball length of a myopic eye is associated with an increased risk of retinal detachment, glaucoma, cataract and myopic macular degeneration later in life.
These are potential sight-threatening conditions; the worse the myopia, the higher the risk. That’s why it’s so important to prevent or reduce myopia; to keep these risks as low as possible.
Prevention is key
Even though myopia is a genetic condition, there are many ways you can prevent myopia from developing.
As well as an assessment, our Kids Vision specialists can offer the best advice on how to manage your child’s eye health, from eye exercises and therapy, to eating well, lifestyle habits and limiting screen time.