Ophthalmologists say they're seeing myopia, or nearsightedness, affect growing numbers of children and young people. The condition occurs when the eye doesn't bend light correctly, causing objects at a distance to appear blurry while things up close are clear.
John A. Moran Eye Center optometrist Shandi Beckwith, OD, specializes in myopia correction, specifically for children ages 8 to 12. Here she answers key questions and shares the latest treatment options.
Why is myopia on the rise, and why is it affecting children in particular?
Right now, myopia affects one in three people, but it is indeed on the rise. Some people are born with it. In others, it develops over time.
The condition is often discovered in children when they're between ages eight and 12. If not corrected, it may worsen during their teen years when they're growing fast. We don't see as much change between the ages of 20 and 40. Myopia can also develop in adults.
Experts, including the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IABP), predict that by 2050, the condition will affect 50 percent of the world's population. Research has shown that increased "near work" or a closer working distance, such as where we hold our phones, tablets, or computers, can increase myopia progression.
Children are experiencing more myopia because a large part of their daily routine is within arm's reach. Another contributing factor is the lack of time spent outdoors.
What are symptoms of myopia in children, and when would a parent know to schedule an exam?
Some of the symptoms of myopia are holding objects very close or sitting very close to the TV. Squinting or covering an eye can also be signs of a refractive error in a child. If the child is having a hard time seeing the board at school, that's also a likely sign. If you are starting to notice one of these signs in your child or have noticed these signs, it's time to schedule an exam.
How does outdoor time make a difference in myopia?
When we're outdoors, we tend to focus on objects in the distance. This gives our eye muscles a chance to relax—especially after hours spent in front of a screen.
How can an optometrist help someone manage myopia?
Right now, special myopia management contact lenses or eye drops are the most effective at slowing progression. Some eye drops or hard contacts act almost like braces for the eye.
New studies come out all the time, so we keep innovating and finding different technologies.
What can parents do to help kids from becoming myopic or try to curb it?
Encourage your children to play outside as much as possible, and decrease screen time as much as possible.
Experts strongly recommend that kids under two have no screen use. Between ages two to five, limit screen time to 1 hour daily, and kids ages five to 18 should limit screen time to two hours daily. That's a tough one, I know!
We can't always limit screen time, but everyone can practice the 20/20/20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and look at least 20 feet away.