A 21st Century Epidemic
It may shock you to learn that 96% of 19 year old men in South Korea are short-sighted (myopic). It’s not just a problem in the Far East. A recent study has shown that short-sightedness (myopia) in children in the UK has more than doubled since the 1960s. The study also found that our children are becoming myopic at a younger age. Myopia means blurred distance vision, making it difficult to see the TV, road signs or the board at school without glasses.
Am I sensationalising, calling this an epidemic? It’s not really a disease, they just need to wear glasses, right? Wrong – myopia carries with it more problems than the need for glasses. The more myopic you become, the greater the risk of associated eye diseases, such as cataract, retinal detachment or glaucoma. So, if we can intervene and slow down myopia, we can help prevent these diseases too.
If you are myopic, your child is three times more likely to become myopic. If both parents are myopic, the risk increases sevenfold. Myopia happens when the eyeball grows too long but the cause isn’t yet fully understood; it’s partly in the genes, it may be to do with light. Perhaps surprisingly, myopia has not been shown to be caused by using a computer screen or reading. Researchers have found increasing time spent outdoors significantly reduces myopic progression in children and teenagers.
What can we do now? Researchers are working on eye drops and spectacle lenses to slow down the progress of myopia but these products aren’t yet on the UK market (watch this space). There are contact lenses which we prescribe and fit at Cottam & Glaister Optometrists, which can slow down the development of myopia by about 30%. Ask us if this is suitable for your child.
Most importantly, all children should have regular eye examinations, whether they need glasses or not. It’s free under the NHS for under 16s and free up to 19 if they are still in full time education.