Myopia In Children

Every afternoon, from 3.30pm onwards, our Optometrist's diaries are filled with children booked in for their
eye tests - it makes the practice a lively and busy place to be at the end of the day! Depending on the cause,
many children will be unaware that they have a problem with their sight, but once they reach the age of 8
or 9, some children become aware that they can’t see the board at school so well (and their friends
complain that they’re copying work!). Early teens is another point in a child’s life when distance vision can
deteriorate, again they notice it more at secondary school in larger classrooms.

Short-sight, or myopia, develops around these ages, and essentially means that the person can see clearly
close up, but distance vision is blurry. The stronger the prescription, the furthest point at which vision is
clear moves in, and the range of clear vision is reduced. In order to focus incoming light rays onto the
retina, the prescription required increases as the eyeball grows in length.

There is mounting evidence that the rate at which children are becoming short sighted is increasing, and
the age of onset is also getting younger. A recent study ( NICER ) revealed that 1 in 5 teenagers in the UK
are myopic, and myopia is more than twice as common in children now than in the 1960s (16% vs 7%).

So, what could be driving this change? We’re all aware that children
don’t play outside as much as they used to, and seem to spend most of
their free time indoors, glued to screens. Well, that’s certainly part of it.
It is believed that natural outdoor light on the retina prevents the eye
from lengthening and becoming myopic. Spending a couple of hours a
day outside, even in cloudy conditions, has been shown to reduce the
chance of becoming short sighted. In Asian countries, where the
incidence of myopia is as high as 96%, schools are using outdoor
classrooms to try to combat this. The students are still using their tech
in lessons though - for reasons unknown, it’s being outside that helps
to prevent myopia, but being on tech doesn’t necessarily have a
negative effect (maybe don’t tell your kids this bit!).

The other factor driving this increase in
myopia is genetic, a child is more likely to
develop the condition if one or both parents
are myopic.
22% chance of developing myopia when
neither parent is myopic
31% chance of developing myopia when
one parent is myopic
46% chance of developing myopia when
both parents are myopic.

Perhaps surprisingly, as Opticians we’re not rubbing our hands in glee at the thought of all these children
needing glasses and contact lenses. We know that myopia brings with it the risk of other eye health
conditions such as retinal detachment and glaucoma. Until recently there was little that we could do to slow
down or reduce the progression of myopia, which continues through teenage years before stabilising,
although in some people it can continue to worsen throughout life.

There have been huge advances in laser surgery to correct myopia, but as this can only be performed once
the eyes have stabilised, and it cannot undo the physical change of the elongated eyeball, which is what
brings the associated eye health risks.

If you are concerned about myopia progression in your child, talk to one of our optometrists about myopia
control*. Myopia control is delivered by specialist contact lenses in either overnight wear (so no lens wear
throughout the day) or a daily disposable format and have been shown to slow myopia progression and
reduce the end level of myopia.
Take a look at My Kids Vision to assess your child’s risk factors, and the myopia calculator to see the effect
of different types of treatment, and the research that’s being undertaken.