Near-Sightedness Is Becoming More Common In Kids — Here's What To Know
I remember the day the school nurse told me I needed glasses in fifth grade. She was conducting annual vision and scoliosis checks and I got flagged. She handed me a bright yellow piece of paper to bring home to my mom. That bright piece of paper felt like a prison sentence—no one wore glasses in my class. Back then, they were embarrassing. Even walking down the hallway and into my classroom with that telltale paper was embarrassing.
I also remember the day I was fitted with glasses and the correct prescription. I remember vividly realizing that I could see individual leaves on trees. Prior to wearing glasses, the trees were topped by blurry green foliage.
I was diagnosed with “near-sightedness,” also known as myopia.
Despite my ten-year-old belief that no one wore glasses, myopia is quite common. About half the population has myopia, and that number might be on the rise. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) notes that “[s]tudies show myopia is becoming more common among children.”
Scary Mommy got in touch with Dr. Richard Hom, Optometric Director at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, to understand what parents need to know about myopia in children.
What Is Myopia?
In folks who have myopia, the eye is longer than normal from front to back. When this happens, things that are far away look blurry, while things that are close up are clear.
Children who are experiencing myopia might squint more, rub their eyes more frequently, or complain about blurry vision. The AAO encourages parents to watch for these signs “because kids often adapt to vision changes and may not complain.” (Like…they might not realize you’re supposed to see the leaves on trees, for example.)
Untreated, aside from the obvious inability to see, kids might be at a higher risk for more serious eye problems later in life, including glaucoma and cataracts.
Is Myopia On The Rise In Kids?
Both the AAO and Dr. Hom confirm that myopia is becoming more common among children, though it’s unclear why. Likely, modern day living is playing a role. “[R]esearch suggests that children who spend more time indoors doing near-focused activities (such as computer work, video games, and reading) have higher rates of myopia than those who spend more time outdoors.”
Cue a pandemic that forced kids indoors and onto screens for everything from school to socializing. The AAO notes, “Eye doctors in some states have suggested a possible uptick in new cases,” since the pandemic began. Not only are some doctors seeing an uptick in cases, but also kids who were already experiencing myopia seem to be getting worse faster than expected, as well.
“By keeping children indoors, the pandemic also limited one factor thought to lower the risk of myopia: time outside.”
Dr. Hom also posits another reason for the increased incidence of myopia in children. He points to research that suggests certain light and/or genetics might stimulate eye elongation faster than normal.
How To Treat Myopia?
The good news is that myopia is easily treated, though it cannot be reversed. It can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, or potentially surgery. And the earlier a condition is identified the better. Dr. Hom writes that “many eye conditions if detected early enough are modifiable or reduced in severity.” Early identification “can mean that treatment can maximize the effect.” The goal of treatment is to keep the condition from progressing
Parents should schedule yearly eye exams for their kids. A well visit with your child’s pediatrician is a good place to start. If a condition has been identified at that time, Dr. Hom urges parents to follow up with a pediatric optometrist or pediatric ophthalmologist.
The best way to slow down the progression of myopia in children is the same advice parents have been given for a number of other situations: get children off screens and get them outside. Unfortunately, for so many of us, that’s easier said than done, especially in a world where COVID-19 variants are running rampant, wildfires are destroying our air quality, and heat waves are melting our roads.
In an article for the AAO, Pediatric ophthalmologist David Epley, MD, highlights the ways parents can optimize their children’s eye health. He suggests:
- Encourage kids to use a bigger screens at a greater distance from their eyes.
- Utilize the 20-20-20 rule—Encourage your child to take a screen break every twenty minutes, and for twenty seconds, look at something at least twenty feet away.
- Go outside for at least an hour, which is not only a screen time break but also gives your child a chance to focus on different distances.
Though wearing glasses doesn’t hold the same stigma that it once did (if it ever even held a stigma at all), protecting children’s eye health is important. Good vision and healthy eyes will benefit their physical health and education. I can attest to the fact that the world looks very different when you’re seeing clearly, when those blurry, green blobs become leaves with shades of green.
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