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Near-Sightedness is Increasing in Children— Preventive Measures Are Key

Child getting an eye exam

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Key Takeaways

  • By the year 2050, half of the people in the world will struggle with myopia.
  • Scientists can’t pinpoint the cause of the rise in cases.
  • Eye exams, taking visual breaks, and even fun games can help reduce kids’ risk of severe myopia.

More children are nearsighted than ever before. The World Health Organization projects that by the year 2050, more than half of the people in the world will struggle with myopia, or nearsightedness.

A 2009 study published in Archives of Ophthalmology found that incidence of myopia in Americans ages 12 to 54 jumped from 25% in the 1970s to almost 42% just thirty years later. The trend is continuing.

The trend is concerning because of the long-term effects of myopia. The trend is concerning because digital screen use may contribute to it. But the trend is most concerning because experts don’t know what’s behind the rise in cases.

Understanding Myopia

Genetics can play a part in myopia. If one or both parents are nearsighted, there’s a higher probability their child will be as well.

Environment also plays a role in developing myopia. Prolonged use of digital television and cell phone screens may factor in. Although the correlation between the use of the screens themselves and the maturation of myopia are mixed, the act of being up close to the screens may be a contributing cause.

Electronics may also indirectly contribute to the condition by leading to less outdoor time for children. Dopamine, which has been shown to control the lengthening of the eyes, is stimulated by sunlight. Without the sun’s help, the eye can continue to get longer, leading to a more severe case of myopia. The child can see things up close but is challenged with seeing objects from a distance.

Spending more time indoors and on screens has been magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to less time for kids in the sun. Results from a 2020 survey found that about 48% of respondents said their children spent more than 6 hours per day online. That number represents a nearly 500% increase from time spent before the pandemic.

Scientists are aware of these facts and acknowledge their roles in myopia. However, given some mixed study results, they can’t conclusively state that the rise in nearsightedness is caused by these reasons. That’s why it’s crucial that parents know how to monitor their children for problems.

What To Look For

As is the case with medical conditions, catching it from the beginning is important. If your child begins to have issues with seeing items in the distance or viewing the smartboard in school, those could be signs of a problem. Squinting to watch television, holding a book close to the face, persistent headaches, and even sliding grades can also indicate a vision issue.

William T. Reynolds, OD

Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial, considering myopia progresses more quickly in younger children, and early onset implies more years of progression.

— William T. Reynolds, OD

Medical personnel can also recognize a problem, which is why you should take your child for regular eye exams. The American Optometric Association recommends an initial vision assessment at 6 to 12 months and a comprehensive examination between age 3 and age 5. From that point forward, children should receive annual vision exams.

“Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial, considering myopia progresses more quickly in younger children, and early onset implies more years of progression,” advises William T. Reynolds, OD, President of the American Optometric Association.

Reduce the Risk

In addition to checking your child’s vision every year, there are steps you can take to try to head off a diagnosis of myopia. This is especially important if your child does a lot of work up close.

Amy Hutchinson, MD

One consensus-based recommendation among eye care providers is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a break from your ‘near’ work and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

— Amy Hutchinson, MD

“One consensus-based recommendation among eye care providers is to follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a break from your ‘near’ work and look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds,” states Amy Hutchinson, MD, director of pediatric ophthalmology at Emory Eye Center.

Dr. Reynolds also recommends limiting time on digital screens, spending time outdoors to get more sun, and even playing games that will encourage kids to focus on different objects, like I-Spy. Activities that help hand-eye coordination, such as football or kickball, are also beneficial.

Protect Future Health

Failing to detect and treat a child’s vision problem can not only impact their sight now, but also their health in the future.

“The public must understand that it’s more than the nearsightedness itself, which usually can be easily treated with glasses or contact lenses. When, in fact, myopia rises, so does high myopia and thus the risk of myopic complications, including retinal detachments, early cataracts, glaucoma, and myopic macular degeneration,” Dr. Reynolds concludes.

What This Means For You

The rise in cases of myopia is concerning. However, the great news is that there are simple measures that parents can take to lessen their child’s risk of severe myopia. Small preventive measures now can make a measurable difference in their health later.

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Article Sources
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  1. World Health Organization. The impact of myopia and high myopia. Published 2017.

  2. Vitale S. Increased prevalence of myopia in the United States between 1971-1972 and 1999-2004. Arch Ophthalmol. 2009;127(12):1632. doi:10.1001/archophthalmol.2009.303

  3. Holden BA, Fricke TR, Wilson DA, et al. Global prevalence of myopia and high myopia and temporal trends from 2000 through 2050. Ophthalmology. 2016;123(5):1036-1042. doi:10.1016/j.ophtha.2016.01.006

  4. Lanca C, Saw S-M. The association between digital screen time and myopia: a systematic review. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2020;40(2):216-229. doi:10.1111/opo.12657