A child with one short-sighted parent has three times the risk of developing myopia
There is a growing epidemic that now affects nearly two billion people worldwide. And no, I am not talking about the coronavirus.
The epidemic I am talking about is myopia or also known as short-sightedness. Myopia is now twice as prevalent as obesity and growing at a much faster rate. Myopia is estimated to affect up to five billion people by 2050.
Many people confuse short sightedness with long sightedness. Short sightedness does not affect your close-up vision, but it affects your ability to see objects further away.
Myopia (or short-sightedness) is where something held close up or a short distance away like a book or a phone is clear, but objects that are far away like signs or TVs are blurred.
Short sightedness may make it difficult for you to recognise faces at a distance, and driving can become more difficult too. In children, short sightedness can often be identified when they have difficulty seeing the whiteboard in their classroom, or watching television from a distance.
Many short sighted people may also suffer from headaches and tired eyes from over-straining them. Frowning and squinting are also common symptoms of short sightedness.
Short-sightedness or myopia usually occurs when the eyes grow slightly too long, which means they're unable to produce a clear image of objects in the distance.
The condition now affects around half of young adults in the US and Europe, which is double the prevalence of half a century ago.
A child with one short-sighted parent has three times the risk of developing myopia, or six times the risk if both parents are myopic.
In younger children, myopia progresses more quickly because their eyes are growing at a faster rate, leading to higher levels of myopia and the need for glasses. However, more and more children and teens with no family history of myopia are now being diagnosed with the condition.
Research has been carried out to find out why it develops but it is thought to be the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors that disrupt the normal development of the eye.
This might explain why the condition is affecting so many children and young adults now. It might also explain why myopia is getting worse amongst children especially in Asia. In Asia, up to 90% of teenagers and adults are short-sighted (as of 2018).
It is inevitable that fingers will be pointed at the use of smartphones and devices in young children, but evidence is showing that it may not be just as cut and dried as you might think.
For example, a correlation has been found between education levels and the likelihood of having myopia. In 2013, a study was undertaken by researchers at Mainz University Medical Center in Germany, which found that, out of the 4,658 Germans examined, 24% of those suffering from short-sightedness had no second level qualifications, 35% had second level school qualifications, and 53% had university degrees and higher.
So one might say that part of the cause of nearsightedness may have to do with close up activities not just on screens but also traditional books.
Myopia has spread quickly over the last 50 or 60 years and it is increasingly prevalent among children and young adults suggests that myopia not just genetic but also an environment-driven phenomenon and can be strongly linked to our changing pattern of lifestyle.
Kids start school and pre-school at an earlier age and are spending more years in the educational system. They are spending a lot more time indoors – whether in school, doing homework or on a phone or a device – and less time outdoors.
Here are some simple steps that not just children, but all of us, can take to mitigate the odds of developing myopia:
Less time in front of screens
It is recommended that children spend no more than two hours a day – outside school time – on near tasks including homework, hand-held devices, reading and Lego.
Children under the age of 2 years should have no exposure to screens and 2 to 5 year olds no more than one hour per day.
More time outside
Sunlight can help to slow eye growth. This may be related to light levels outdoors being much brighter than indoors. Both sport and relaxation outdoors are beneficial in reducing the risk of short-sightedness.
Keep screens at arm’s length, zoom in on screens to make text larger, and use the “20-20-20” rule. This is where you should take a break from looking at your screen every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Perhaps we could all implement this rule at work, home and schools in the year 2020.
If you or your child is diagnosed with myopia, ask your optician for advice on interventions to slow the progression of the condition.
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