Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, affects the ability to see objects in the distance clearly. It typically begins at a young age and often progresses into adulthood. Routine eye exams are capable of diagnosing this issue, and early intervention can prevent it from progressing into more severe vision issues, like high myopia.
Myopia management, or control, is the scientific practice of helping to slow the progression of this refractive error. Slowing down its progression has several benefits that will last a lifetime.
A Growing Issue
Since the 1970s, the prevalence of myopia has grown by more than 66% in Americans. The optometrists at Specialty Eye have tracked myopia in 6-year-old children pre- and post-COVID-19. Prior to 2020, 5.7% of 6-year-olds were diagnosed with myopia. Now, we’re seeing 21.5%, meaning we are seeing a nearly 16% increase in myopia in the last few years, compared to life before quarantine.
While myopia may be genetic, it could also be linked to the amount of time children spend outdoors and how much close-up activity (like reading and screen use) they are exposed to.
The Long & Skinny on Myopia
You may be thinking, “a lot of people have blurry vision. What’s the big deal?”
The truth is, high prescriptions are about more than just blurry vision. A child who develops myopia may struggle with seeing things far away, but as the error progresses, their vision can become more and more limited, until they can only see a couple of feet away.
Our myopic prescription gets stronger because the eyeball continues to grow bigger and longer. Just like a balloon that’s getting filled with air, the eye has to stretch as it gets bigger, which can put stress on the delicate eye structures as we age.
People with high myopia are at an increased risk of:
- Detached retina, which can cause blindness
- Glaucoma, irreversible vision-loss that begins by affecting your peripheral (side) vision first
- Cataracts, the clouding of the eye’s lens that is only reparable with surgery
- Macular retinal disease threatens vision, caused by the eye stretching over time
It used to be that we would think having myopia was just one of those things you lived with, more of an annoyance than anything. Now, we realize it’s so much more than that.
As the prevalence of myopia goes up, so do the risks of developing eye diseases.
On top of it all, having bad eyesight:
- Makes it difficult to see when you’re not wearing your glasses
- Lessens your eligibility for laser eye surgery
- Limits your options for contact lens wear
Advancements in Optometry
Thankfully, modern medicine is constantly evolving—and so is optometry.
A quick history lesson: About 50 years ago, doctors began developing some very interesting strategies to help slow down the progression of myopia. Fast forward, and now we have tried and tested (and well-researched) strategies that actually work!
Some of the things these optometrists have learned?
- For most kids, we can slow the progression of nearsightedness by more than 50%.
- In some cases, we can nearly halt their prescription changes altogether.
- The best way to prevent large changes in prescriptions is with early diagnosis
Because myopia is best controlled in its earliest stages, we want to do everything we can to prevent it from starting in the first place!
- Spend time outside. At least 2 hours each day.
- Practice the 20-20-20 Rule: for every 20 minutes of reading or screen time, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds to give your eyes time to adjust.
- Limit overall screen time as much as possible, especially for young children.
My Child Has Myopia, Now What?
If your child does get myopia, there are several types of specialized drops and contact lenses that have been proven to slow its progression.
Some of the lenses available can be worn overnight, like a retainer, and removed during the day so children don’t have to wear them at school or during play. These are called “Sleep Shaping Molds,” and are highly recommended by optometrists!
If you suspect that your child may be struggling to see clearly, start by booking an eye exam. An optometrist will be able to diagnose your child and get them started on a myopia control method that works best for them.