Myopia (Nearsightedness) in Children
Myopia in children has become an epidemic in the USA and all over the world. Commonly known as “nearsightedness,” Myopia is much more than simply the ability to see nearby objects clearly and far away objects with difficulty. Myopia can be a progressive eye condition that can cause your child to perform poorly in school, have headaches, behave poorly, and later in life suffer from some very serious eye and vision diseases.
In this article:
- What Is Myopia?
- How Does Myopia Affect a Child’s Vision?
- What is the Main Cause of Myopia in Children?
- Why Is Myopia Control and Treatment So Important For Children?
- Controlling and Treating Your Child’s Myopia.
- How Do You Know if a Child has Myopia?
- How to Prevent Myopia from Worsening.
What is Myopia
Children with normal vision have eyes that focus light properly at the back of the eye, called the retina. But if your children are Myopic or have Myopia, that means their eyes are longer than normal, which causes the light from far away objects to focus in front of the retina, causing the vision to be blurry.
The condition is called “nearsighted” or “nearsightedness” because when an object is brought nearer to your child’s eye, the focal point moves back toward the retina until at some point (depending on the amount of Myopia) the near object becomes focused on the retina without any effort from your child’s focusing muscles.
How Does Myopia Affect a Child’s Vision?
If your child has myopia they can see objects near to them clearly, but objects farther away are blurry. It occurs when the shape of their eye causes light rays to bend (refract) incorrectly, focusing images in front of your retina instead of on your retina.
What is the Main Cause of Myopia in Children?
Myopia often starts when your child’s eyes are still growing, generally during school-age. If you and your spouse, or your parents, have a history of Myopia, then your children are also more likely to have Myopia. But during this young period of your children’s lives, their habits and environment also have a large influence on their eyes’ growth and development.
In the USA in 2010, 42% of the population had Myopia to some degree, which is double the percentage in 1972. Recent estimates are that half of the population now has some level of Myopia. In the last several years, people worldwide — including children — spend much more time viewing screens, including televisions, desktop computers, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. And while we might suspect that viewing these screens is a direct cause of Myopia, indications are that the actual cause is a mix of:
- Looking at Screens
- Less time outdoors
- Less time in sunlight
- All other near work.
An article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015 described a 3-year study of over 1900 school-age children near Hong Kong. During this time, groups of children were exposed to an extra 40 minutes of time outdoors. The incidence of Myopia for those children in the test group had a Myopia rate of 30.4%, while those children in the control group (other students in nearby schools) had 39.5 incidences of Myopia. That means that those children in the test group who spent more time outdoors were 23% less likely to have Myopia.
Why Is Myopia Control and Treatment So Important For Children?
Myopia control slows the progression of myopia by slowing the lengthening of the eye in teens and children. This keeps children’s prescriptions low so that their sight is protected for the future but also reduces the risk for ocular diseases later in life.
Why Is Myopia Control and Treatment So Important For Children?
You want the best care for our children, but we also don’t want to pay for unnecessary medical treatment. This applies as much to children with Myopia as it does for children with any other medical condition. But since Myopia usually gets worse over time, some parents ask “Can’t we just prescribe stronger prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses for my child?”
This is a dangerous approach to your child’s eye health because Myopia can lead to other, much more serious eye conditions. Untreated and uncontrolled, Myopia can lead to greater incidence of any of the following:
- Retinal Detachment
- Macular Degeneration
The increase in the likelihood of these diseases isn’t just a few percentage points. Your child with Myopia actually has between two times and forty times greater chance of these destructive conditions. That is why we have developed several methods to control and treat Myopia.
Controlling and Treating Your Child’s Myopia
In our office, we also recommend one or more of the following methods to slow or prevent your child’s Myopia from getting worse.
The simplest and most important thing you can do for your children, whether or not they have Myopia, is to have them spend more time outdoors and away from screens. Outdoor time brings other health and social benefits to your children that extend far beyond eye health.
And don’t just send your child outdoors unprotected: Quality sunglasses will give your child eye protection from harmful UV rays. Use sunscreen and take other precautions to protect your child’s skin and overall health.
Atropine Eye Drops
Focusing fatigue is linked to Myopia, and so these drops are used to relax the focusing muscles.
NaturalVue® Contact Lenses
These special contact lenses can help prevent the eye from growing longer and becoming more myopic. We often begin using the NaturalVue® lens as first choice for our youngest children who are just starting to become myopic.
Orthokeratology (aka Ortho-K) is a night-time treatment used to reshape your child’s cornea with specialized contact lenses. Much like retainers to align crooked teeth, Ortho-K is worn at night and removed upon waking. Ortho-K has been shown over and over again in study after study for many years to be very effective method for reducing the long-term progression of Myopia in children.
How Do You Know if a Child has Myopia?
Myopia makes it difficult for children to see things clearly at a distance. This is especially important for school-age children looking to see the board at the front of the classroom. Younger children may not communicate effectively that they have trouble seeing, but you may notice that they exhibit some of the following symptoms.
- Poor or declining grades
- Behavior Problems, which are common with children who have difficulty seeing
- Complaints of headaches
- Sitting close to the television at home
- Excessive blinking
- Eye rubbing
How to Prevent Myopia from Worsening
Schedule A Myopia Exam For Your Child
While all of these are indications of vision problems, the only way to know for sure if your child has Myopia is to schedule an eye exam with an Optometrist trained to diagnose and treat Myopia. Dr. Barry Leonard and Associates specializes in Myopia Diagnosis, Control, and Treatment. And perhaps just as importantly, all of our Optometrists are specially trained and experienced in working with children, especially those who might be fearful of an eye exam. Schedule your child’s Myopia exam online here, or call our office at 818-891-6711.