Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a condition of the eye where objects in the distance are blurry. 80% of myopia starts in childhood and frequently vision deteriorates throughout the childhood years. Glasses and contact lenses compensate for myopia by providing clear vision, but do not treat the underlying condition, which is an eyeball that is growing too long.
What are the risk factors for myopia?
The primary risk factor for myopia is genetics—if one or both parents are myopic there is an increased risk for a child to have myopia. However, the massive increase in myopia can’t be explained by genetics alone, we now know environment plays a role. Multiple research studies confirm that lack of outdoor time in children is causing myopia to occur earlier. It is also suspected that reading and using computers and smartphones is helping drive this increase in myopia. It seems the warnings from our moms as children were right—TV and other devices are changing the way eyes develop and grow.
How does this affect my child and their future eye health?
We now know that there is no “safe” level of myopia. As the eyeball grows longer and myopia increases, parts of the eye are stretching. This can impact several of the internal structures of the eye and increase the risk of more serious, sight threatening eye diseases. The most common of these diseases are retinal detachments, glaucoma, and cataracts.
What’s the big deal? Why should I care?
We are now more concerned about myopia because we know it increases the risk of serious eye diseases. Retinal issues and glaucoma in particular can cause permanent loss of vision, even with proper care and intervention.
Another reason to try to halt myopia’s progression is that a lower myopic eye is a better candidate for refractive surgery procedures such as LASIK. While refractive surgery is only done on adults, if we can treat a child’s myopia to keep their prescription lower they are a better candidate for refractive surgery later in life.
What can I do about it?
There are now proven ways to slow down or even stop myopia from getting worse in children. Instead of just giving a child stronger glasses every year as their vision deteriorates, we can now use customized contact lenses and/or prescription eye drops to treat their myopia. These non-surgical treatments give the child better vision now, and reduce their risk of more serious eye diseases for life. Early detection and intervention is critical as these treatments don’t reverse myopia, so it is best to catch it early.