What is myopia?
Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, is the inability to see things clearly unless they are relatively close to your eyes. Myopia is the most common vision issue among children and young adults. Myopia occurs when the eye grows too long from front to back, causing light to come to a focus in front of the retina instead of directly on it. Myopia typically starts during childhood and, unless treated, can progress rapidly. Early intervention with myopia treatment can slow, or even stop, the progression of your child’s myopia.
Why is myopia an issue now?
Childhood myopia rates are increasing, with 1 in 3 children now affected. Many researchers believe reduced outdoor time and increased screen time on devices are part of the problem. Myopia often leads to a child’s struggle in school and activities due to poor vision, as well as increased eye disease risks.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, heavy reliance on screens for entertainment, communication, work and remote learning has put a strain on everyone’s eyes. In a recent study by the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC), 61% of parents said their children’s use of video games has increased, and 44% said their children spend four hours or more on electronic devices each day — including television or handheld devices, completing schoolwork on a computer, or playing video games. This increased screen time means a greater risk of developing conditions such as myopia.
What does myopia look like?
Myopia occurs when the eye grows too long from front to back, causing light to come to a focus in front of the retina instead of directly on it. It can also be caused by the cornea and/or lens being too curved for the length of the eyeball. In some cases, myopia occurs due to a combination of these factors.
What you can do
If you're concerned about your child's screen time and want to prevent eye problems, here are some actions you can take.
See an eye doctor
Even if your child is not experiencing vision problems, identifying issues early — especially between ages 8-13 — can make a real impact on their future. Prompt treatment of conditions such as myopia may slow the risk of a child's vision getting worse over time.
An eye doctor can help determine if your child is having vision problems or showing early signs of eye disease. Many optometrists today will arrange in-person and/or virtual visits, depending on the circumstances. Contact them ahead of time to learn about their safety protocols for in-person visits. If your child does have myopia, ask your eye doctor about new treatment options beyond traditional eyeglasses or contact lenses.
Limit screen time
As difficult as it is when everyone's social lives, work and study have moved online, try to limit screen time as appropriate for your child's age. Ask your optometrist for recommendations for your child's screen time. It helps to keep electronic devices out of children's bedrooms.
Schedule regular breaks away from devices. Encourage your child to engage in different types of activities during their breaks, including physical activity. The upside? Frequent breaks actually improve focus and productivity when you do go back to work or study. An easy technique to use — the 20/20/20 rule — every 20 minutes spent using a screen, look away at something that is 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds.
Take breaks and get outdoors. Spending more time outside can be healthier for everyone's eyes, as well as their entire bodies. Need to keep children entertained? Create obstacle courses, set up relay races or scavenger hunts to keep kids outdoors longer. Recreate their favorite video game in real life. Aim to have children spend two hours a day outdoors.
SEE RELATED: GMAC coverage in The New York Times, “How to Protect Children’s Eyes During Remote Learning”
About the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition
The Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC), formed in early 2019, is composed of leading ophthalmic companies and eye health associations that agree on a clear need for greater public awareness about childhood myopia.
GMAC serves as an advisory board under the World Council of Optometry (WCO). Together, we are focused on increasing consumer awareness of childhood myopia—including its risks and treatment options.
We want to help change the behaviors of parents and encourage them to do the same with their children. We hope to make parents of myopic children more receptive to recommendations from their eye care professionals, and to increase the time children spend outdoors and decrease the time they spend on screens. And lastly, we seek to influence policy at the national and global level to make clinical and health promotion activities possible.
Promote public awareness of childhood myopia as a treatable disease and encourage parents to regularly get comprehensive eye exams for their children
Our focus is squarely on public education—not clinical discussion, doctor education or treatment options. We do not offer opinions on preferred treatment methods or which type of doctor should treat pediatric myopia.
Matt Oerding, Board Chair, GMAC | Matt.Oerding@TreehouseEyes.com
Patrick Johnson, GMAC Board Member | Patrick.Johnson@Sydnexis.com
Is myopia the same as Nearsightedness?
Myopia is the medical term for nearsightedness.
What are symptoms of myopia?
Headaches from squinting
Difficulty seeing distant objects, such as the television, in a movie theater or teacher’s notes on a chalkboard
Poor school performance — often the first clue in young children who rarely complain about vision problems
How is myopia diagnosed?
An eye doctor will diagnose myopia through a comprehensive eye exam, including questions about symptoms and family vision history as well as performing tests to determine how well you can see.
Why is myopia a concern in children?
Myopia develops rapidly as children grow. Cases of “high myopia” (over -5.00 diopters) are increasing, especially in Asia where 10-20% of school-age children suffer from high myopia. The development in children is particularly disturbing as it gives them a longer time to become highly myopic, because the eye continues to elongate, increasing their risk of more serious vision problems in adulthood.
Featured Video: Taking a Break from the Screen