What is myopia?
Myopia is the term used to define short sightedness, a common, progressive eye condition that causes distant objects to appear blurred, while close objects can be seen clearly. Myopia occurs when the eyes grow slightly too long, so that light focusses in front of the retina. Myopia often increases during periods of further growth and can range from very mild, where correction may not be required, to severe, whereby vision is significantly affected.
Myopia occasionally presents in very early years but the age of onset is usually between the ages of 6 and 13. Myopia usually progresses throughout teenage years until the eye is fully grown. The earlier the onset, the higher the myopia is likely to be. It’s not fully understood why this happens.
What are the chances of developing myopia?
In the last 50years myopia has more than doubled in the USA and Europe, now affecting around half of young adults. In South East Asia, the incidence of myopia has more than quadrupled, currently reaching epidemic proportions and affecting around 90% of young adults
The biggest risk factors are family history and increased time spent on close work indoors. A recent UK study found that the odds of developing myopia are 2.5x higher for children attending academically selective schools, 3x higher when one parent is myopic and nearly 8x higher when both parents are myopic.
In most cases, nearsightedness is a minor inconvenience that poses little or no risk to eye health. But sometimes myopia can be so progressive and severe it is considered a degenerative condition. Degenerative myopia (also called malignant myopia or pathological myopia) is believed to be hereditary and usually begins in early childhood.
Because high myopes have a significantly increased risk of retinal detachment and other degenerative changes in the back of the eye myopia is anticipated to become a major cause of blindness worldwide.
Often children don’t complain about their vision, so regular eye examinations from birth are essential to ensure normal visual development and to monitor how much and how fast the eyes are changing. Recent research shows that ensuring your child regularly spends at least 2-3 hours per day playing outside in natural daylight may help to reduce their risk of becoming short-sighted.
Myopia can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses to help the eyes focus on distant objects. Alternatively, myopia can be corrected whilst you sleep using orthokeratology contact lenses, or by refractive surgery such as laser treatment when the eyes have finished growing.