Myopia is one of the most common vision problems in the developed world today, affecting roughly 20% of the population.
Unfortunately, there is no means of “curing” myopia. Vision can either be corrected using spectacles, contact lenses or through refractive surgery, depending on the severity of the condition.
With the number of people developing myopia increasing, just how do we prevent and manage the condition?
What is Myopia?
The term Myopia is the clinical term for what we more commonly call short-sightedness or near-sightedness. Essentially, myopia causes distance vision to be blurred or obscured but should not affect vision when looking at objects up-close. People who are short-sighted, will commonly have problems with activities which require distance vision; for children this is usually the blackboard in school, TV, Cinema, sports and as the myope progresses into adulthood, driving.
The level of myopia may be mild or severe. The mildest form requiring glasses only for certain activities such as watching television to more severe cases where the glasses are necessary during the entire waking day.
Unfortunately, there are many people suffering from myopia who choose to do nothing about it, mistaken in their belief that wearing glasses will make their eyesight worse or that their eyesight is not bad enough to wear glasses.
You will often hear the claim that wearing glasses will make your eyesight worse. This is completely false. The fact of the matter is: if you can’t see, you can’t see. If you need glasses to see better, wear them. The reason we feel our eyesight gets worse when we wear our glasses is primarily because we see so well with them on, when we take them off; we realise just how much we need them. So the advice is, do what your Optometrist tells you, if you need them all the time, wear them all the time, if you need them some of the time, use them for those times when you will need them.
For children, however, wearing glasses when they need them is critical. Much research has gone into the area of Myopia and children. The rate of children developing myopia is increasing, but for what reason?
Risk Factors for Developing Myopia:
Myopia commonly occurs between the ages of 8 and 12 years. If both parents are myopic, the child will have a 30 – 40% chance of being short-sighted. If only one parent is short-sighted this reduces to a 25% chance, and only a 10% chance if neither parent is short-sighted.
Other factors which have been looked at are; the amount of time a child spends doing close work, height factors; as in taller children may be more prone to myopia (tell that to the Orientals) and dietary factors; as in more high protein, high processed carbohydrate diet may be more prone to triggering myopia in children. However, all the research has proved inconclusive.
The most recent research and eye studies show that there is a definite link between reduced exposure to natural light and the development of myopia. So, if your child spends more time indoors, whatever activities they may be doing, they are at a higher risk of developing Myopia. This is where the computer game link comes in. If a child remains indoors playing video games then they are likely to increase the rate of development of myopia. The analogy I like use is to think of nocturnal animals or animals that spend most of their lives inside; their vision is the poorest developed sense. Good examples would be the Mole or the Bat.
So, the studies carried out on 10,400 children showed that near- sighted children spend more time indoors. Part of this study included two groups of children who were already short-sighted. One group was given a schedule to follow of outdoor activities, while the other group continued their normal schedule (indoors). The results showed that the group of children who spent more time outdoors had slowed down the development of their myopia as opposed the “indoor” group, who had developed myopia more rapidly.
Preventing progression of myopia
So, how can we prevent our children who have already developed myopia from getting worse?
- Ensure they wear their glasses or contact lenses and keep the prescription up to date with a yearly eye exam. It has been established that not wearing the correct up to date prescription or not wearing corrective lenses enough can speed up the development of myopia.
- Ensure that they eat a healthy and balanced diet. While it has not been fully established whether poor diet increases the risk of myopia, proper nutrition is essential in maintaining good eye health.
- Encourage your child to spend more time outdoors. A lack of natural light has been proven to increase the risk of myopia. Even spending at least an hour a day playing outdoor sports will be hugely beneficial to both their vision and overall health.