The Dangers of Nearsightedness:  Are Our Children at Risk?

By:  Dr. Karen Chao

While we are all navigating life through this pandemic another epidemic continues to emerge – children are becoming more nearsighted.  In the United States the percentage of myopic individuals increased as measured in 1972 and in 2010 from 25% of the population to 46%!  And, before COVID-19, scientists were predicting that more than 40 million people in the US will be nearsighted by the year 2030.

Nearsightedness (myopia), or the inability to see objects clearly in the distance, is on the rise – in its frequency and its severity.  The reason for its escalation has been linked to two factors:

  • Children who spend more time on activities like reading or using handheld devices instead of spending time outdoors are more likely to become nearsighted.
  • Children with one or two myopic parents are more likely to be nearsighted.

The traditional approach for treating nearsightedness is to prescribe glasses so the person can see in the distance.  Aside from the fact that it doesn’t identify the actual reason why your child is having trouble seeing in the distance, the problem is that each year, the glasses will get stronger and stronger.  This increases the risk of the sight stealing eye diseases, glaucoma and macular degeneration – even for children.

The good news is that there are a variety of treatments available to slow down the progression of myopia (nearsightedness).  There are different types of specialized contacts that can be prescribed. Your child can either wear these special contacts during the day or a different type of contact lens can be worn while your child sleeps (no glasses or contacts are needed during the day). For younger children, there are special eye drops which can be used to slow the progression.

Additional steps that parents can take is to make sure your child gets outside to play and look at the environment around them every day.  With the pandemic, a lot of people are staying indoors and not getting enough time outdoors.  Ideally, children should spend 1 to 2 hours outdoors every day.

While many adults often get refractive surgery to correct their nearsightedness, children younger than 18 years are not candidates for this surgery because their eyes are still changing.  It is important to see an eye doctor who has a special focus on treating the progression of nearsightedness.

To find a doctor, ask your family optometrist if they do “myopia management” or give my office a call and we can let you know who is near you.