nearsighted man in glasses

What is myopia?

Myopia (or “nearsightedness”) is the inability to see objects clearly at a distance and is the most common refractive error among children and young adults. The condition is a vision disorder, not a disease, however patients who have myopia are at an increased risk of developing certain eye diseases later in life.

“Normal” vision, or seeing clearly without corrective lenses, requires light to focus directly on the retinal tissue in the back of your eye. Myopia occurs as the eye develops and grows longer than it should, which causes light to focus in front of the retina instead of directly on it. It is most commonly treated with prescription glasses or contact lenses that focus the light correctly on the retina, as shown in the image below. There are also preventative treatments available to help slow the progression of myopia over time, which is the primary goal at our Myopia Management Center.

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normal eye cross section
Faraway object is clear
cross section of myopic eye
Nearsighted eye
The eyeball is too long
Faraway object is blurry
cross section of myopic eye corrected with minus lens
Correction with a minus lens

Who is at risk for myopia?

Myopia typically develops during childhood when the eyes are experiencing rapid growth. It is usually diagnosed between the ages of 5 and 11 years old, and will continue to worsen every year at a fairly predictable rate until plateauing around 18 to 22 years old.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now views progressive myopia as an epidemic, as 1 in 3 children are currently affected. In fact, recent studies predict that by 2050, over 50% of the world’s population (over 5 billion people!) will be myopic.

Although many factors may be contributing to the rise in myopic patients, researchers and doctors agree that the two main risk factors are genetics and modern lifestyle.

  • Genetics: A child with two myopic parents is six times as likely to develop myopia compared to a child with either one or no myopic parent. Additionally, children of Asian descent are more likely to be affected, with the prevalence being close to 90% in some Eastern Asian cities.
  • Modern lifestyle: Children should be spending at least two hours per day exposed to sunlight to help promote distance viewing. Nowadays, most children are not spending enough time outdoors. This, along with prolonged near work and poor lighting, have all shown to be contributing factors to the increase in myopia. Excessive time spent focusing on items up close, such as phones, computers, tablets, handheld games, and even studying and reading is causing myopia to develop at younger ages and progress more rapidly than in years past.
woman in glasses drinking coffee

What are the symptoms of myopia?

The primary symptom of myopia is having a difficult time seeing objects clearly at a distance while closer objects remain clear. However, because this condition most commonly occurs in childhood, it can be difficult for a child to recognize what “blur” actually means, as they may believe everyone sees as they do. Some symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Squinting when trying to see far away
  • Sitting too close to the TV
  • Having a hard time seeing the board at school
  • Holding devices too closely
  • Leaning forward or placing their head on their desk while doing schoolwork
  • Complaining of headaches or eye strain (some children may not be able to verbalize this feeling but it may be noticed as rubbing their eyes, short attention span, or excessive blinking).
  • Avoiding or uninterested in activities that require good distance vision
  • Difficulty performing in school or sports

Nearsighted vision can be difficult to explain to a child who doesn’t understand the concept of blur or to those who have never experienced less than perfect vision. Check out this helpful myopia simulator which demonstrates how vision deteriorates as myopia increases.

If you feel you or your child may be struggling with undiagnosed myopia, please contact our office or schedule an annual eye exam online! Our doctors can help explain various treatment options at your visit!

What are the dangers of myopia?

The most common treatment of myopia is prescription glasses or contact lenses. While these treatments are effective at improving vision, they are not preventative, and myopia will continue to worsen exponentially with time.

The dangers of this span far beyond having to update your prescription each year. Patients with myopia are at an increased risk of developing serious, vision threatening diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachments and maculopathy. The risk of these conditions increase as the level of myopia increases, as shown in the graph below.

chart showing dangers of myopia

What’s more concerning is that progressive myopia is more prevalent in children, but the related diseases typically don’t arise until much later in life. This can make it difficult for parents of myopic children to prioritize preventative treatment.

Our goal at the Myopia Management Center at Handel Vision Clinic is to fully educate our patients and their parents on the risks and rewards of treating myopia pro-actively to help facilitate a lifetime of healthy eyes and clear vision!

How do you treat myopia?

There are three methods available for treating myopia: temporary, permanent, and preventative.

Temporary Treatment:

Temporary treatment is the most common and involves an annual eye exam where our doctors can prescribe glasses or standard contact lenses. This is termed as “temporary” because while your vision will improve with these corrective lenses, it only works while wearing them.

Temporary treatment does not slow (or hasten, for that matter) the progression of myopia.

Permanent Treatment:

Permanent treatment would involve refractive surgery such as LASIK, PRK, and even refractive lens exchange. This would involve an annual eye exam, an additional refractive surgery consultation with specialized testing to ensure candidacy, and a referral to a surgeon.

This type of treatment is only available to patients over the age of 18 and requires a stable prescription, healthy ocular surface, as well as additional criteria that would be discussed at your consultation.

Preventative Treatment:

Preventative treatment is the goal of our Myopia Management Center and involves either the fitting of specialty soft or hard contact lenses or use of daily eye drops. Our doctors offer several evidence-based, customized treatment plans to help slow the progression of myopia in children and teens.

By stopping or slowing down the progression of myopia, we reduce long-term risks to best ensure that your child enjoys the world with healthy eyes throughout their lifetime. We stay at the forefront of the latest research and work closely with each family to help customize treatment programs for each child based on their individual needs to ensure maximum success. The treatments we offer are:

  • Corneal Molding
  • Specialty soft contact lenses
  • Atropine eye drops

Learn more about our treatment options available through the Myopia Management Center at Handel Vision Clinic, or call our office to schedule an appointment!