Myopia Myths and treatments for short sightedness

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The internet is an amazing, vast and sometimes concerning place. With such a huge availability of information, sometimes it’s hard to determine what is real and what is just an urban myth. With increasing rates of myopia in children (also termed being short sighted or nearsighted), parents are doing more to find out how to best manage their children’s vision. Do eye exercises cure myopia? Can vitamins and time outdoors improve vision? This blog looks at some myopia myths, maybe’s and facts to help you understand your options. If you’d like to understand more about childhood myopia first, read What is Myopia for more information.

Myopia can be cured: MYTH

Myopia occurs when the eyeballs grow too quickly and too long in childhood, and can continue worsening into the teens and even early adulthood. Once this excessive eye growth has commenced, we can attempt to slow it down with myopia control treatments but we can’t stop the eyes from growing or reverse the excessive growth. This means there is no cure for myopia – only ways to correct the blurry far away vision which comes with it.

Examples of when myopia may seem to be ‘cured’, but is only just ‘corrected’, include Orthokeratology and LASIK or laser surgery. Orthokeratology is a type of hard contact lens which is worn overnight while sleeping, and gently reshapes the surface of the eye so that no glasses or contact lenses need to be worn during the day. (To learn more, read What is orthokeratology?) This can make it seem as though the myopia is fixed, but in fact it’s just been corrected – if you stop wearing your Orthokeratology lenses overnight while sleeping, the correction will regress and you’ll need normal glasses or contact lenses again.

In the same way, LASIK or Laser eye surgery can also do away with the need for vision correction, so the person doesn’t need to wear glasses or contact lenses again. It corrects myopia, but doesn’t cure it, because it doesn’t shorten the length of the eyeball. This means the health risks of myopia remain the same, even if vision is now perfect. There is no treatment that can reverse myopia once it has developed.

Eye exercises cure myopia: MYTH

It’s a lovely idea; do a few exercises, look far-then-close-then-far and you no longer need glasses! Whilst it certainly doesn’t hurt to give your eyes a break from screens and books on a regular basis, you’d be better off keeping your moves for the dance floor. There is no scientific evidence that eye exercises will reduce myopia. This is a significant issue in China, where there are high rates of myopia and daily ‘eye exercises’ have been a part of China’s national vision care policy in schools for over 50 years. Recent research has shown that these eye exercises do not help to preserve or improve vision.

Keep in mind however, that sometimes the eyes don’t work properly together as a team. Some of these issues can be linked to worsening of myopia, and in some cases can even cause a condition called ‘pseudo-myopia’ where the eyes behave like they are short sighted, suffering blurry far vision, because the eye teaming muscles are inflexible. In these cases, a qualified eye care professional – an orthoptist, optometrist or ophthalmologist – may prescribe specific eye exercises (also called vision training) to improve these conditions.

Pressing on your eyes shortens the eyeball: MYTH

This claim dates back over many centuries – it is believed that the ancient Chinese slept with sandbags or small weights on their eyes overnight to improve their vision for the morning. It has continued in the belief that if your distance vision was blurred, you could ‘push down on your eyes with your palms’ to make the eyeball lengthening go away. This advice is wrong, and is potentially dangerous, as pushing on your eye can dramatically increase the pressure in your eye, like pushing on a balloon, potentially damaging the eye structures. Avoid rubbing and pressing your eyes as if done frequently this can cause long term eye health damage.

On the positive note, this ancient Chinese concept is somewhat like how Orthokeratology works to temporarily correct vision during the day – but by using gentle pressure between a contact lens and the eye surface, not the blunt pressure of a sandbag or a hand!

Taking Vitamins can Cure Myopia: MYTH

Vitamins are used in healthcare to treat some eye conditions. Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that causes blindness (mainly in the elderly) has been proven through scientific studies to slow down when taking a very specific dose of some vitamins. This is only for AMD though, and if taken incorrectly and not under the direction of a professional these vitamins can bring about health complications in some people. There is no current vitamin that prevents or cures myopia, and all vitamins and supplements should only be taken under the advice of your healthcare professional.

Contact Lenses are Dangerous for Children: MYTH

There appears to be no additional risks when looking at the risk of eye infection in contact lens wearing children (aged 8-12) and teenagers; in fact it seems that children may even be safer wearers, which is likely due to parental supervision and support. This is especially the case for the type of contact lenses most commonly prescribed to children, daily disposable lenses – which you throw away each day, after every use. If you wear these contact lenses for 5,000 years, you on average are at risk of 1 eye infection. Certainly not dangerous odds. For more information on contact lens safety, and links to that research, read Are Contact Lenses Safe for Kids? You can also watch this short video to learn more about the benefits of contact lenses for kids.

Smart Phones are Making Me Short Sighted: MAYBE

This is a hot topic issue. We know that the rates of myopia are increasing worldwide, and our use of technology has dramatically changed in the last decade. But it’s important to differentiate correlation from causation – in other words is it connected, or simply coincidence? A 2020 review of multiple studies found mixed results. Some studies say that there may be a connection between high levels of screen time and needing glasses whilst others find no connection.

So should you digitally detox? Discard the devices? A key message here is we could probably all benefit from reduced screen time. A survey-based study showed that when parents carefully monitor what, and how much digital time children get, their children get more sleep, have improved academic performance and increased pro-social behaviour. There is lots more information on screen time in Close work and screen time in kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests a maximum of 2 hours of leisure screen time in school aged children per day. Screen-free time has big benefits for kids that are not just about their vision!

You can watch this short video to learn more about how to balance indoor and outdoor time for healthy children’s vision.

Sunlight exposure stops progression: Almost True

Let’s be clear. We simply are not spending enough time outdoors; a 2016 survey found three quarters of UK children spent less time outdoors than prison inmates, with 20% never playing outside regularly. Research has shown that reduced outdoor time is associated with earlier, and higher rates of short-sightedness. There is only limited evidence, though, that time spent outdoors will slow down worsening of short-sightedness once a child has become myopic. Read more at How much time should my child spend outdoors? Overall, though, the message is clear – the Australian Government Department of Health and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day. So what are you waiting for? Grab the kids and get out there!

It can be hard to keep up with health developments, and work out which information comes from reliable sources. Check out some other posts on My Kids Vision such as What is Myopia control for children – and why it’s so important for factual information by healthcare professionals about healthy eyes. When you’re done; we’ll see you outside!

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