Nearsightedness—A Growing Epidemic
January 09, 2021
Submitted by Vision Point Eye Center
If a global pandemic wasn’t enough, there is another world-wide health concern that has been growing for many years and is now considered an epidemic affecting vision. Since 1971, the incidence of nearsightedness or myopia in the U.S. nearly doubled, to 42 percent. In Asia, up to 90 percent of teenagers and adults are nearsighted.
A 2019 study appearing in Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), offers further evidence that at least part of the worldwide increase in nearsightedness has to do with near work activities; such as working on computers, looking at phone screens, and also reading books and doing desk work.
Myopia usually begins in childhood when the eyeball grows too long from front to back (axial length). Instead of focusing images on the retina, images are focused at a point in front of the retina. As a result, children with myopia have good near vision, but poor distance vision. If a person develops severe myopia as a child, they may be susceptible to other eye problems such as early cataracts or a detached retina during adulthood. According to AAO, one diopter increase in myopia raises the likelihood of developing myopic macular degeneration, or loss of vision, by 67 percent.
However, there is a new option that will actually diminish the progression of myopia in children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the first contact lens indicated to slow the progression of myopia (nearsightedness) in children between the ages of 8 and 12 years old at the initiation of treatment. The MiSight contact lens made by CooperVision Inc. is a single use, disposable, soft contact lens that is discarded at the end of each day and is not intended to be worn overnight.
When placed on the eye, one part of the MiSight contact lens corrects the refractive error to improve distance vision in nearsighted eyes, similar to a standard corrective lens. In addition, concentric peripheral rings in the lens focus part of the light in front of the retina (the back of the eye). This is believed to reduce the stimulus causing the progression of myopia. Studies showed a 59 percent success rate for myopia reduction.
With kids spending so much more time on screens, partly due to the increase in remote learning, it is natural for parents to be concerned about how these changes may be affecting children’s visual development. Here are some actions that can slow the progression of myopia:
- Keep a safe distance from devices. Eye doctors recommend keeping digital devices about two feet away and at eye level or even preferably somewhat below to avoid having to look up at the screen. Having a screen closer than this requires our eyes to focus harder in order to keep the image sharp, which can cause strain and potentially worsen myopia.
- Take regular breaks and follow the 20/20/20 Rule: Every 20 minutes you need to look up at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. This gives eyes a break and a return to their natural position.
- Balance near activities with regular time outdoors. Studies show that a deficiency in natural sunlight exposure could contribute to the recent increase in myopia. Children with myopia that spend at least 40 minutes a day outdoors significantly slowed down the progression of myopia.
It remains unclear whether the rise in nearsightedness is due to focusing on screens so much more, or to light interacting with circadian rhythms to influence eye growth, or something else entirely. Clearly, something is creating the increase, but scientists can’t agree on exactly what the cause or causes might be. We know that family history plays a role. There is a 25 percent chance that a child will develop myopia if one parent is myopic. That number jumps to 50 percent if both are myopic.
Keeping your child’s vision healthy and slowing the progression of nearsightedness is yet one more reason to limit screen time and get plenty of physical activity outside.
Your vision is an important part of your overall health. If you would like more information or to schedule a comprehensive eye exam, contact VisionPoint Eye Center at (309) 662-7700 or visit the website at www.visionpointeye.com. They are located at 1107 Airport Rd in Bloomington. Their ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians will be happy to see you.
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