Slowing myopia in children: Control, reduction and prevention
If your child has myopia (nearsightedness), you're probably wondering if there is a cure — or at least something that can be done to slow its progression so that your child doesn't need stronger glasses year after year. One simple, no-cost thing you can do is encourage your child to go outside and play. Research has found that children who spend a lot of time reading, texting or using other hand-held electronic devices appear to have a greater risk of becoming nearsighted.
Research also shows that spending time more time outdoors lowers the risk of childhood myopia.
What other treatments can slow the progression of myopia in your child?
3 ways to slow myopia progression
Although a cure for nearsightedness has not been discovered, your eye doctor can offer treatments that may be able to slow the progression of myopia.
These treatments can induce changes in the structure and focusing abilities of the eye to reduce stress and fatigue associated with the development and progression of nearsightedness.
Why should you be interested in myopia control? Because slowing the progression of myopia may keep your child from developing high levels of nearsightedness that have been associated with serious eye problems later in life, such as early cataracts.
Currently, three types of treatment are showing promise for controlling myopia:
- Atropine eye drops
- Orthokeratology ("ortho-k")
- Multifocal contact lenses and eyeglasses
Here's a summary of each of these treatments:
Atropine eye drops
Atropine eye drops have been used for myopia control for many years, with effective short-term results, but use of these eye drops also has some drawbacks.
Results of studies of atropine eye drops to control myopia progression have been impressive — at least for the first year of treatment. Four short-term studies published between 1989 and 2010 found that atropine reduced myopia progression by 81 percent in nearsighted children. However, additional research has shown that the myopia control effect from atropine does not continue after the first year of treatment, and that short-term use of atropine may not control nearsightedness significantly in the long run.
Many eye doctors, though, are reluctant to prescribe atropine for children because long-term effects of sustained use of the medication are unknown.
Other drawbacks of atropine treatment include discomfort, light sensitivity, blurred near vision, and the added expense of the child needing bifocals or progressive eyeglass lenses to be able to read clearly, since his or her near focusing ability is affected.
Orthokeratology is the use of specially designed gas permeable contact lenses that are worn during sleep to temporarily correct vision problems so glasses and contact lenses aren't needed during waking hours.
Some eye doctors use "ortho-k" lenses to also control myopia progression in children. Evidence suggests nearsighted kids who undergo several years of orthokeratology may end up with less degree of myopia as adults, compared with children who wear eyeglasses or regular contact lenses during the peak years for myopia progression.
Kids do look cute in glasses! But with the proliferation of ortho-k and other myopia control techniques, fewer kids may need eyeglasses for myopia in the future.
Multifocal contact lenses and eyeglasses
But researchers and eye doctors are finding that conventional or modified multifocal soft contact lenses also are effective tools for myopia control.
Multifocal eyeglasses have also been tested for myopia control in children, but results have been less impressive than those produced with multifocal contacts.
Detecting myopia early
The best way to control myopia is to detect nearsightedness early.
Even if your child does not complain of vision problems, it's important to schedule routine eye exams for your children.
Early childhood eye exams are especially important if you or your spouse are nearsighted or your child's older siblings have myopia or other vision problems. Heredity is a factor in myopia.
And don’t forget: Encourage your children to put down their phones and gaming consoles and go outside and play. More time outdoors seems to lessen the chances your child will develop myopia.
Worried about your child's myopia?
Page updated August 20, 2018