The Growing Concern of Pediatric Myopia
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Myopia is the medical term for nearsightedness, one of the most common eye conditions.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, myopia occurs when either the eye is longer than usual from front to back or the cornea at the front of the eye is steeply curved. The result? Objects far away from you look more blurry than they should, while items that are close up look fine.
Myopia has been a common diagnosis for quite a while. But in recent years, the condition has been increasing among children, according to the American Optometric Association. Currently, one in four parents has a child with myopia. And 75% of those children are diagnosed with myopia between the ages of 3 and 12.
“Almost 50% of Americans have myopia. We estimate that by the year 2050, half of the world will be myopic,” says Susanna Tamkins, O.D., pediatric optometrist and director of the Management of Myopia Clinic at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute.
“This is a great public health concern, as high myopia puts patients at risk of eye diseases, such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.”
What is causing the increase in pediatric myopia?
At this time, eye health experts aren’t exactly sure why rates of pediatric myopia are rising, but they have some theories. The American Academy of Pediatrics says that kids spending more time indoors and doing close-up tasks like playing video games, using tablets and phones, or working on computers might be playing a role in the rise.
“An increase in near work and a decrease in outdoor time have been proven to be risk factors for myopia,” says Dr. Tamkins. “Excessive near tasks, such as smartphone use or intense education, should be limited when possible.”
Why is early detection important?
In addition to limiting screen time, the other factor that is important in managing the rise of pediatric myopia is early detection and treatment. Though myopia seems like a reasonably standard eye health issue, it can lead to complications later in life if not treated properly, such as cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment, macular degeneration, and more.
Your child likely receives vision screenings at school. Still, the American Optometric Association recommends regular screenings at an ophthalmologist’s or optometrist’s office as well to ensure that your child receives the most thorough eye assessment possible. These should occur between ages 6 and 12 months, between ages 3 and 5, and then potentially annually, depending on your optometrist’s recommendation for your child.
Treating myopia at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
Eyeglasses or contact lenses are the standard treatments for helping your child see things that are far away. But other therapies can slow the progression of myopia and prevent it from getting worse over time.
“Today, we have proven treatments to slow the eye growth and thus stop the eyeglass prescription from increasing,” says Dr. Tamkins. “Cutting-edge treatments available at the Management of Myopia Clinic at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute include myopia control spectacles, low-dose atropine eye drops, and special contact lens fits, including one-day disposable contact lenses. It is reassuring to know that with all these options, we have a treatment choice that will be successful for each child.”
One of the most exciting new developments in myopia treatment is the MiSight contact lens.
“MiSight is the first and only FDA-approved soft contact lens shown to slow the progression of myopia in children,” says Dr. Tamkins. “These are soft contact lenses that are disposed of every night, and a clean pair is worn daily.”
A bright outlook
Though pediatric myopia rates are rising, the good news is that there are more treatment options for myopia than ever before. When the condition is detected and treated early, the prognosis for your child is excellent.
“Early treatment means lower myopia and a better quality of life, with the possibility of laser surgery at age 20 to eliminate eyeglasses or contacts,” says Dr. Tamkins. “Detecting myopia early will also greatly reduce the chance of myopia-related eye disease and vision loss.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UHealth’s news service.