Short-sight (Myopia/near-sight) is affecting more and more children around the world — it is reaching unprecedented levels and has been recognised by the World Health Organisation as a looming public health problem. The rates in the Europe, America and Australasia have doubled over the past 2 decades. More worryingly, in East Asian countries, over 90% of 18-year-olds are myopic.
Understandably, parents are concerned. Even though, parents and children overwhelmingly acknowledge the improvement that wearing glasses makes to learning, about 40% of children are self-conscious or do not like wearing glasses.
More importantly, in addition to reduced vision, the real problem starts to rear its head much later. The risk of serious and sight-threatening conditions such as weakness and damage to the retina and cataract and is significantly increased as the level of myopia increases.
What should you be doing to help your child?
Children are spending less time outdoors than previous generations. Being outdoors, in the presence of sunlight has a protective effect against myopia. This could be due to the brightness of the light, looking long distance (instead of the closer distances typically experienced indoors), or could be due to the exposure of UV or violet-white light on the eye and retina. A child should ideally spend at least two hours a day outdoors to reduce risk of becoming myopic.
Don’t hold books or devices too close
The latest research shows that the increased focusing effort when reading material is held too close could induce an increase in myopia, by causing changes in the length of the eye. Your child should hold books or mobile devices at the same distance as from their knuckle to their elbow — this is called the Harmon distance.
Take breaks from close work and device use.
As well as holding things further away, it is essential to take breaks from sustained near work and re-focus the eyes for the distance. This will relax two sets of muscles used by the eyes to read — the muscles that turn the eyes inwards and those that focus the lens inside the eye. It’s the fatigue of these muscles that causes eye strain and could be one of the factors that drive further myopia.
The easiest pattern to remember is 20/20/20. Every 20 minutes focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Taking a 10–15 minute break every 50 minutes also helps to improve concentration and task performance as well as relaxing the muscles of the eye.
A recent study adds further factors into the mix by finding that a lack of sleep increases the progression of myopia. Children should be getting between 9–11 hours of sleep a night.
Speak to an expert in myopia control
There is now a wealth of scientific research and proven studies that show the progression of myopia can be slowed significantly. Most of the factors that contribute to the change can be assessed to find solutions to help your child. Check out more of the resources on this website for reliable, independent information which takes an evidence-based approach, from professionals and academics around the world.