Myopia (also known as short sight or near sight), is an increasingly common condition that affects children’s sight and has a long-lasting (often detrimental) effect for the rest of their lives.
If you’re short-sighted and you’re reading this, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Alarmingly, now more kids are being diagnosed with it than ever before, making it a modern-day epidemic.
Short-sightedness means that the eyes are focused at a close point (a short distance). Objects that are far away will be blurry, while objects closer will appear clear. The more short-sighted a person is, the closer the focal point the eyes will be.
What is happening to the eyes?
When you’re looking at an object, the light entering the eyes is focused at the back of the eye to a light-sensitive layer called the retina. Most of the focusing occurs by the front surface of the eye (the cornea), which is fixed to make light focus to the retina. However, in myopia, the light focuses too soon. By the time it reaches the retina, the image is no longer in focus, which means that the object will be blurry. If the object is brought closer, the light would focus more sharply on the retina.
In most cases of myopia, the eyeball is slightly elongated, so the retina is further away to the focal point inside the eye making the distance vision blurred. Myopia makes objects close by such as books and mobile phones appear clear.
What are the causes of myopia?
There are several factors that play a part, the most important are:
- Genetic: If one or both parents are myopic, the risk of a child developing myopia is significantly higher.
- Not enough time outdoors or spending too much time focusing on close objects such as phones or books.
- Optical factors: the eyes try to compensate or adapt to myopia but that frequently leads to an increase in the elongation/length of the eye and makes eyes become more myopic.
- Weakness or imbalance in the muscles of the eye that focus or make the eyes work together.
Unfortunately, short-sightedness in children tends to get worse as they grow.
Generally, the younger they are when they first become short-sighted, the faster their vision deteriorates and the more severe it is in adulthood. Short-sightedness usually stops getting worse at around 20 years of age.
What are the dangers of myopia?
For children, the leading problem is a difficulty when looking at the board at school and being able to keep up with school work. Glasses can cause a hindrance to sports and 40% of children report that they feel uncomfortable wearing glasses.
However, the biggest risk comes much later. Adults who are myopic have a significantly greater risk of blindness. Especially those who have high myopia, where an individual is over 20 times more likely to have a sight-threatening disease compared to a person who is not myopic
How can I tell if my child has myopia?
Signs that your child may be short-sighted can include:
- Needing to sit near the front of the class at school because they find it difficult to read the whiteboard.
- Sitting close to the TV.
- Complaining of headaches or tired eyes after watching TV or performing distance tasks.
- No signs: many children don’t even realise that their vision is not supposed to be blurry and do not complain.
This stresses the importance of regular (annual) sight tests for children as soon as they are ready for school.
What is the treatment for myopia?
Traditionally, myopia in children has been treated by:
- Contact lenses
While this gives clear vision, research over the past 20 years has concluded that it is possible to intervene and slow down the rate of change compared to wearing glasses or traditional contact lenses.
There are medicinal interventions using drops that are proven to reduce the progression of myopia. Specially designed contact lenses (dual-focus lenses) for daytime wear or lenses for overnight wear have been successful in reducing the level of myopia.
What should I do to help my child?
Ensure that your child has regular sight tests.
Find an eye care practitioner (an optometrist, optician or ophthalmologist) who specialises in helping children who develop myopia and discuss the suitable options for your child.