Column: Eyeing the myopia epidemic

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Commentary by Dr. Matthew Clark 

It is estimated that by 2050, more than half of the world’s population will be myopic, or nearsighted. In Asia, the numbers are more astonishing, as a study of South Korean 19-year-olds found that 96.5 percent of these teens were nearsighted!

The main cause of myopia is genetics. However, with a trend like this, there must be something else at play. You guessed it: digital devices. While genetics set the potential for nearsightedness, the endpoint is highly related to environment. Phones and tablets are only becoming more prevalent in school, after school and socially. It is likely that the prevalence of myopia will continue to rise as well.

So, what can we do about it? Although we may not be able to prevent a child from becoming nearsighted, the goal is to keep them from becoming so myopic that they develop a higher risk of retinal complications. The goal is to keep it at bay so that they can hang around the house without glasses on or make it to the bathroom at night without feeling around the bedside table for their specs. To throttle this progression, there are two contact lens options to discuss with your eye care provider.

  • Multifocal soft contact lenses – These lenses, called distance-centered multifocals, are the same lenses many adults wear in their 40s. The lenses work by relieving some of the focusing stress on the eyes when reading or looking at devices. These lenses have been shown to reduce myopia progression by up to 40 percent.
  • Orthokeratology – Ortho K is the use of hard lenses worn at night to reshape the cornea. In the morning the lenses are removed and vision is clear throughout the day. A 2017 study showed that this practice may reduce myopia progression by as much as half.

If you and your spouse both start each day with glasses or contacts, and you suspect your child is headed for a similar fate, discuss these options with your eye doctor. If we can send these kids off to college as a -2.00 instead of a -4.50, then we’ve succeeded in improving their quality of life forever.


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