Myopia, or short-sightedness, is an eye condition which results in people having difficulty seeing objects from a distance clearly. For children this may affect everyday tasks such as reading from smart boards at school through to participating in sports. Myopia is also a progressive condition that can actually change the physical structure of the eye, and in extreme cases lead to vision loss. The causes of myopia are believed to be both genetic and environmental.
According to the World Health Organisation, myopia already affects approximately 30 per cent of the world’s population. Between 2005 and 2011, the number of 12 year old Australian children with myopia doubled, and it is predicted that 50 per cent of the entire world population will be myopic by 2050.
According to optometrist Alek Sims, genetic factors for developing myopia include family history and ethnicity. “The risk of developing myopia is three to six times higher for children whose parents are short-sighted,” he said.
Optometrist Max Astri said the increased incidence of myopia worldwide has been strongly associated with environmental factors such as increased close work and excessive use of computers, hand held digital devices and mobile phones, as well as the amount of time spent outside. “For young children, outdoor physical activity and judicious exposure to sunlight are important factors in reducing the prevalence of myopia,” he said.
Childhood myopia occurs when the eyes grow too quickly or continue to grow beyond 10 to 12 years of age when the growth of the eye normally ceases. The earlier that myopia develops in children, the more rapidly it generally progresses.
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Alek said myopia usually begins in children and gets progressively worse over time. “Early detection and treatment to slow down this progression reduces the risk of degenerative eye conditions and the need for even stronger glasses in the future,” he said.
Becoming short-sighted changes the normal structure of the eyeball and increases the lifetime risk of potentially blinding eye conditions like Retinal Detachment, Myopic Maculopathy, Macular Degeneration, Glaucoma, and Cataracts. The higher the prescription, the higher the risk of these serious eye diseases.
It is recommended that all children have an eye examination before starting school and continue with regular eye examinations thereafter. It is especially important for children having trouble seeing in the distance, or for those with a family history of short-sightedness.
Max Astri and Alek Sims said that there are now specific spectacle lens and contact lens options for patients with myopia that are designed to reduce the amount of myopic progression.