Myopia is a refractive error that’s commonly referred to as near-sightedness or short-sightedness and most often develops between the ages of eight and 12.
This widespread cause of poor eyesight hinders the effective range of vision, with objects only appearing clear and in focus when nearby. With the increasing severity of myopia, the closer objects have to be held to be in focus.
Although myopia often develops at a young age, it becomes significantly worse during puberty as the body experiences rapid periods of growth.
If you’re an adult with myopia, laser eye surgery is highly effective in removing the need for glasses or contact lenses.
LASIK works by creating a small flap in the upper layers of the cornea. Once exposed, a laser is used to remove some tissue, reshaping the cornea. PRK is an alternative and works by reshaping the cornea without firstly creating a surface flap.
Myopia affects nearly half of young adults in the US and Europe which is double the prevalence compared to half a century ago. Up to 90 percent of teenagers and young adults suffer from the refractive error in Asia, with an alarming 96.5 per cent of teenage men suffering from short-sightedness in one Korean study.
What’s particularly worrying is that myopia is being diagnosed earlier in school children and rising in severity. A child with one short-sighted parent is three times more likely of developing progressive myopia or six times more likely if both parents are myopic.
Progressive myopia is dangerous because it continues to worsen year after year and is associated with the onset of retinal detachment, glaucoma, and cataracts in later life.
However, we’re experiencing an increase of children and teens with no family history of myopia being diagnosed with the condition.
What are the Symptoms?
Besides blurred vision at a distance, there are several symptoms to look out for if you suspect that your child has myopia;
- Excessive blinking
- Constant rubbing of the eyes
- Being oblivious to objects at a distance
As a parent, it’s essential to stay mindful of these symptoms because your child’s education could suffer as a result of them struggling to focus at school.
Although we currently don’t understand why myopia happens, we do know that focusing the eyes on nearby objects for extended periods of time will increase the risk of developing short-sightedness.
What Causes Myopia?
Myopia occurs when the eyeball is too long, which causes light rays to focus in front of the retina rather than directly its surface.
For each extra 1mm of eyeball length, the patient will suffer from almost three dioptres of short-sightedness.
If you’re concerned that your child is showing symptoms of myopia, you must take them to be examined by an optometrist, particularly if you’re a parent with near-sightedness.
In some areas, children will have visual screenings in their first year of school during the ages four to five. If this doesn’t happen in your area, or if you have concerns about your child, take them to see an optometrist.
How Can You Prevent Myopia?
Although we can’t alter genetics, there’s a few adjustments we can make to our environment that could delay or prevent the onset of myopia in your child.
Reduce Screen Time
Using electronic screens before the age of two should be avoided, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Consider limiting to one hour per day for those aged between two and five years of age.
While homework should be taken into consideration, the use of electronic devices should be limited as your child gets older. Besides schoolwork, a maximum of one hour should be practiced for good eye health.
Also, a two-minute break after every 30 minutes spent using a device will lessen the risk of strain and dryness of the eyes. Exposure to screens should be avoided at least one hour before bedtime.
Increase Exposure to Natural Light
Increasing exposure to outdoor light is vital in reducing myopia. The sun’s light (not ultraviolet, but normal daylight) elicits the release of dopamine which may promote the normal growth of the eyes.
Children who spend large amounts of time indoors don’t produce the same levels of dopamine, consequently resulting in higher myopia than children who do more outside activities.
Low levels of vitamin D is related to longer axial length and an increased risk of myopia in young children. More time spent in the sun (even on cloudy or colder days) will increase dopamine in the retina and vitamin D production will take place when your child’s skin is exposed to the sun.
Providing your children with an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet is the best way to provide them with the vitamins that their eyes need. These vitamins include essential antioxidants like zeaxanthin, lutein, zinc, omega-3, and vitamins C, A, and E.
All of these nutrients support eye development. Inflammation due to an unhealthy lifestyle may contribute towards myopia. There is a higher incidence of myopia among patients with inflammatory diseases such as type 1 diabetes mellitus, uveitis, or systemic lupus erythematosus compared to those without inflammatory diseases
Here are the foods that you should feed your child to protect their eyes;
- Yellow and red fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, tomatoes, apricots, and red peppers.
- Green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach lutein and zeaxanthin which have anti-inflammatory effects
- Foods that are high in Vitamin E like almonds, sunflower seeds, and avocados
- Vitamin C rich food like kiwi, guava, oranges, and berries
- Zinc-rich food like chickpeas, pumpkin seeds, lamb and grass-fed beef
- Omega-3 fatty acid foods like sardines, salmon, trout, flaxseeds, and walnuts
- Diet high in vitamin A like egg yolks, cod liver oil, and grass-fed butter
Controlling myopia in children is important because as their eyes grow, their myopia increases and therefore their dependence on glasses or contact lenses increases.
Make sure that your child gets regular eye exams, especially if you have a family history of near-sightedness or other eye conditions.
Don’t forget to pay attention if they have trouble focusing on details on objects more than a few feet away at home, school or while they watch TV from an average viewing distance.