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Can you prevent myopia? A guide to what may help

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Can you prevent the development of myopia?

Heredity plays a role in myopia, and not much can be done to control that. But scientists are finding that two hours of outdoor exposure every day, along with avoiding near work at very close distances and for extended periods may reduce the risk of developing myopia. 

If your child has already developed myopia, the following strategies are a great way to maintain eye health, decrease eye strain and establish some good visual habits.

Spend time outdoors

Outdoor exposure may help to prevent the development of myopia. A study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology in April 2021 looked at the amount of time nine-year-olds were spending outdoors. The study analyzed the amount of light exposure the children had, the amount of time the children were outside, and how often they were outside. 

These researchers found that a greater amount of time spent outside protected against myopia development in the children. The activities that the kids were involved with were simple outdoor pastimes, such as taking walks, playing with friends and going swimming.

A study of Taiwanese school children published in Ophthalmology in August 2018 also looked at the relationship between myopia and time spent outdoors. This study evaluated whether the amount of light intensity that a person was exposed to was a factor in protecting against myopia. 

The scientists examined nearly 700 students to investigate the effects of different levels of sunlight on myopia. They wanted to see if spending a longer amount of time in moderate amounts of sunlight was as effective as a shorter amount of time in bright sunlight. The study results suggested that even lower amounts of outdoor light may be helpful in preventing myopia.

Confirming this finding was the ROAM study in Australia. Researchers noted that nearsighted children, in general, spent less time in outdoor light — both dim and bright.

These, and other studies, have shown that making time to get some outdoor exposure may be an effective strategy for preventing myopia. However, the exact mechanism by which outdoor exposure may help to prevent myopia is still being researched. 

Eye doctors have begun to recommend that children spend 80 to 120 minutes (about 2 hours) outside each day to decrease the risk of myopia development. This is referred to as the 20-20-2 rule. It seems that getting outside and enjoying the outdoors provides great benefits for vision. Just remember to use sunblock and sunglasses!

Take vision breaks when doing near work 

The trend in increased near work and increased myopia seems to have occurred simultaneously. Over the past few decades, scientists have been investigating if there is a relationship. 

The International Myopia Institute (IMI) has identified factors that may contribute to the risk of developing axial myopia (the most common form of childhood myopia). One of these risk factors is doing near work at very close distances (less than 20cm) for extended periods of time (more than 45 minutes).

A meta-analysis of scientific literature regarding risk factors for myopia was published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International in 2017. It found that, in addition to decreased outdoor exposure, close-up work also seems to increase myopia risk. 

In fact, people who spent little time outdoors were found to have a five-times-higher risk of developing myopia. Those who spent little time outdoors and also did a lot of near work were found to have increased their risk of myopia development by 16 times.

Numerous studies have found a connection between excessive near work and myopia development, but they have not found a strong correlation. There are conflicting theories about exactly why, or even if, near work is associated with myopia. However, it is widely accepted that developing good near-work vision habits is beneficial for the eyes. 

Use reading glasses

Some studies have reported that using reading glasses while doing near work may help to reduce the risk of developing myopia. One such study, published in EC Ophthalmology in 2017, investigated college students at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. 

Having 20/20 vision without any vision aids is one of the requirements of entering pilot training at the Naval Academy. But a number of students who entered the academy with perfect vision gradually became myopic during their four years of study. 

In an attempt to combat myopia onset, scientists gave reading glasses to new students at the Naval Academy to wear during study time and computer work. Then the scientists monitored the development of myopia in these students over their four years at the academy. The study concluded that reading glasses decreased the risk of myopia development in the naval students.

Develop healthy eye habits

In addition to the strategies above, following these recommendations will help keep your eyes healthy: 

  • Decrease or limit screen time. This includes looking at your phone, tablet or e-reader, and playing video games.

  • Use proper illumination when reading, studying or working, with the light pointing at your desk, not your eyes. Glare can cause eye fatigue.

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking negatively impacts your health, including your eye health.

  • Wear sunglasses. It’s always important to protect your eyes from UV damage.

One of the most helpful habits to decrease vision strain when doing near work is to take visual breaks. Try the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, look at something at least 20 feet away. If vision breaks can be taken outside, research shows that the benefits are even greater. 

In addition to vision breaks, it’s important not to sit too close to your computer screen or book. The “elbow rule” ensures that the screen is farther than the distance between your hand and elbow. To check, make a fist next to your face and extend your elbow towards your reading material. You should be working no closer than this distance.

The first step to preventing myopia is maintaining the health of your eyes. The best way to do this is to schedule a comprehensive eye exam where your eye doctor can assess your eye health and vision. They can also use the appointment to update you on the latest strategies to prevent and slow the progression of myopia

READ NEXT: Is your child at risk of developing myopia?

Association of time outdoors and patterns of light exposure with myopia in children. British Journal of Ophthalmology. April 2021.

Sunlight exposure reduces myopia in children. American Academy of Ophthalmology. August 2018.

Myopia prevention and outdoor light intensity in a school-based cluster randomized trial. Ophthalmology. August 2018.

Dim light exposure and myopia in children. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. October 2018.

Myopia management in the Netherlands. Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics. March 2020.

IMI – Clinical management guidelines report. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. February 2019.

Preventing myopia. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 2017.

REVIEW. +2 to +3 D. reading glasses to prevent myopia. EC Ophthalmology. 2017.

Myopia (nearsightedness). Cleveland Clinic Foundation. July 2020.

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