As a parent, you take extra care to make sure your child is healthy. You feed them the right foods, help take care of their teeth and bodies, and keep them up to date on their vaccinations.
Are you giving that same level of attention to their eyes?
Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a growing condition for patients in America, and it’s important to catch the symptoms early. Brill Eye Center is the premier myopia specialist in Kansas City, and our team is dedicated to fighting myopia and promoting great eye health in our patients from an early age.
In this blog, we will go over what myopia is, who might be at risk, and how parents can help prevent myopia from progressing in children. You can also contact our office to speak directly with a specialist about myopia control and schedule a free 15 minute consultation.
Myopia on the rise
In the last 40 years, myopia rates in Americans have increased by nearly 25%. Now, more than 40% of Americans are myopic, and the condition is particularly impacting today’s children.
Many factors contribute to the rise in myopia, including:
- Family history
- Environmental factors
- Electronic device use
Myopia happens when the eyeball is too long or the cornea is too steeply curved. This causes the eye to improperly focus light, thus making distant objects appear blurry. If left untreated, myopia can cause serious eye problems later in life, such as glaucoma, retinal detachment, or macular degeneration.
Risk factors for myopia
Many factors can lead to the development of myopia, from ethnicity to environmental conditions and exposure to natural light.
While myopia is a rising problem in American, it’s a full-blown epidemic in other parts of the world. Recent studies have found that as many as 90% of young adults in East and Southeast Asian communities have myopia. Some of that has to do with environmental factors and social factors. For instance, children who spend less time outdoors are more likely to develop myopia. A study from Kaiser Permanente also corroborates myopia progression also occurs at a higher rate in Asian Americans.
Myopia is a complex condition that involves hundreds of genes, so it’s hard to determine if the issue is hereditary or not. Children whose parents have myopia have a greater chance of developing myopia themselves. The same goes for children whose siblings developed myopia.
That increased risk is likely due to shared genetic conditions. However, the shared environment of the family may play a role as well.
The dramatic increase in myopia across the world coincides with a rise in the amount of near work. This includes reading or using hand-held gaming devices, tablets, and computer monitors. The recent trend during COVID of holding classroom over Zoom meetings has exacerbated this problem.
Consistently working in close proximity to personal devices is taking its toll. Kids are also not spending as much time playing outdoors in the daytime. This means they are missing out on natural sunlight and relaxing the focusing muscles when looking at the horizon. Increased LED lamp use for homework, increased study demands, and fewer hours of restful sleep have also contributed to the increased risk of myopia in kids.
Some studies point to biological sex differences causing an increased risk of myopia. In this report from the American Academy of Ophthalmology, there was a greater prevalence of myopia in girls near 9 years old, continuing into their teenage years and early adulthood.
Other studies in the Netherlands and Poland have linked the female sex to childhood myopia. However, that same study found a higher rate of myopia in adult males.
Stemming the myopia tide
The rising rates of myopia around the world are cause for concern, but there is good news. There are plenty of ways to prevent any further development of myopia in children that won’t force them to seek further correction later in life.
Catch myopia early on
Signs of myopia develop early. We like to see children by age 3 for their first eye exam. At that age, we can measure the amount of early myopia development or decrease in hyperopia. The axial length of the eye at that time is done via an instrument–called an A-Scan biometer– that ultrasonically and painlessly makes a very precise measurement. A visit to the pediatrician is not adequate for this determination of myopia development.
Children may have difficulty reading the blackboard at school or squint to read things far away. Myopia is most often diagnosed in children as late as the ages of 8-12. By that time, myopia has already progressed and axial elongation is present. Because of the eye’s constant development through adolescence, the condition can worsen until age 25 or later.
Reduced vision can have a profound effect on a child’s ability to learn. Studies show nearly 80% of a child’s learning comes from vision, and children understand things quicker through visual aids.
With early detection through annual eye exams from Brill Eye Center, Kansas City’s premier myopia specialists, we can catch the signs of myopia development early and begin remediation.
Once a specialist diagnoses a person with myopia, it’s time to start treatment. For adults, you can control myopia with overnight corneal reshaping or even LASIK surgery. However, those options aren’t necessarily available for children under age 6.
You can’t cure myopia, but you can control it with early detection. At Brill Eye Center, we specialize in myopia control and prevention and can help develop the best control plan for each individual.
Here are a few control and prevention treatments used for children with myopia.
Orthokeratology, also called Ortho-K or Overnight Corneal Reshaping, involves contact lenses that a child, or adult, wears overnight to allow no spectacle or contact lens correction during the day. The lenses flatten a patient’s cornea while they sleep, allowing light to fall precisely on the patient’s retina the next day. This helps to make distant objects appear clearer without daytime glasses or contact lenses.
Ortho-K not only provides better vision during the day, it helps prevent or slow regression in the eyes. This is very important for children who are genetically susceptible to high amounts of myopia from their parents.
Several scientific studies conclude that specific types of contacts and eyeglasses can effectively control the progression of myopia. These types include:
- Ortho-K or Overnight Corneal Reshaping contact lenses
- Specialized multifocal soft contact lenses
- Specialized glasses currently not available in the USA
Atropine is an eye drop that’s proven to reduce the progression of myopia in children. The treatment works to control myopia and works in conjunction with corrective lenses, by relaxing the focusing ability of the eye. Very low-dose Atropine drops are effective in slowing the progression of myopia while a child is sleeping. The exact mechanism of action is still not known precisely.
This is an ideal treatment for very young children who start showing signs of myopia. It is noninvasive and customizable with the help of eye care specialists, like the myopia control experts at Brill Eye Center.
How parents can help
Just like any medical situation, it’s better to begin preventative measures when signs of myopia arise rather than wait for things to get worse. If your child’s teeth aren’t growing correctly, an orthodontist will see your child and fit them with corrective braces. Control of a child’s myopia works similarly. While orthodontia refers to straightening teeth, orthokeratology refers to straightening corneas. The lenses that are worn overnight are similar to nighttime orthodontic retainers.
Unlike adults, children can’t receive LASIK surgery to correct their vision. This means that controlling the progress of myopia needs to be done early on to get ahead of the elongation of the axial length of the eyes in kids.
There are some other ways to help your child reduce the progression of myopia as well.
- Encourage outdoor activity: Studies show that children who spend more time outdoors have less risk of developing myopia. Natural sunlight has a protective effect on the eye, even when wearing sunglasses.
- Monitor reading habits and screen time: When your child is reading or using handheld electronic devices, make sure they aren’t holding them close to their face. Also, it’s good to encourage a break from concentrated reading or screen time. A good rule of thumb is to look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
- Ensure proper rest: Sleep is necessary for the body to fight many conditions, and myopia is one of them! Children need at least 9 hours of sleep a night, and kids who are sleep-deprived also have higher levels of myopia.
Parents can educate themselves further on myopia control by visiting the Brien Holden Institute’s website. This site is filled with educational material on how to manage myopia in their children and prevent further damage.
The best thing you can do for your child is to see a myopia control specialist at Brill Eye Center. We know what it takes to control the progression of myopia in both you and your entire family. Contact us to schedule a free 15 minute consultation and find out more about myopia and its effect on your child.
Kansas City’s top myopia specialists
No one in Kansas City has the expertise to successfully treat you or your child’s progressing myopia better than Brill Eye Center. Children can begin developing nearsightedness as early as 5 or 6 years old, so it’s incredibly important to catch the development early on.
Reach out to our expert eye care specialists at Brill Eye Center to learn more about myopia and how it affects your child’s vision. Schedule a free 15 minute consultation with one of our experts today to discuss how we can ensure your child has excellent vision well into the future.