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Posted on 08-03-2015

Prevent Your Child's Myopia from Spiraling out of Control

Happy family smiling up from green lawn

This is the first of two posts looking at the dangers of myopia and associated pathologies in children. Despite its common occurrence, untreated myopia can lead to vision loss.

The good news is there are treatments that can slow and even halt its progression, preventing further damage to the eye. Next month we'll dig deeper into treatment for this potentially serious condition.

What is myopia?

Myopia is the inability to see distant objects clearly. It can be mild or severe, often beginning in childhood, sometimes acquired as an adult.

As you can see in the picture below, a myopic eye has physically grown longer than normal, making distant objects appear blurry.

Shows myopic eye is longer

The amount of correction necessary is measured in diopters:

  • Less than 6 diopters is considered simple or school myopia, and generally begins in childhood or adolescence.

  • Greater than 6 diopters indicates high or pathologic myopia, and puts the person at greater risk for serious complications.

What causes myopia?

While myopia has become epidemic in Asian countries - even 90%+ of youths in some regions - it has doubled in the U.S. in the past 50 years.

Both heredity and environment can lead to myopia. While a child with one myopic parent is more likely to develop myopia, a child with two myopic parents or one highly myopic parent is at higher risk of developing the more serious pathologic myopia and associated disease.

Contrary to popular opinion, more and more studies are disproving the idea that near work (reading, for example) causes myopia. The latest research is clear that light exposure is essential for children's eye health. Spending more time outdoors before the onset of myopia lessens your child's risk greatly.

Is there a cure for myopia?

There is no cure for myopia. The myopic eye has literally grown too big and there is no current medical technology that can "un-grow" it.

Catching it early enough with the treatments we have today can be almost as good as preventing it.

What can be done to slow myopic progression?

Fortunately, there are myopia treatments that are far better than ordinary glasses or contacts, speaking both medically and with regard to lifestyle.

First, early detection is essential to limit or avoid serious threats to vision later on.

Briefly, Dr. Jackman's recommendation is generally Ortho-K, special contact lenses worn overnight. Bifocal contact lenses and atropine eyedrops have also been used successfully. Next month we'll talk about treatment in greater detail.

When should I have my child tested?

It's important that your child have their first eye exam at six months of age. At this time, Dr. Jackman will take a thorough history and assess their eyes, then discuss options if warranted.

The exam should be repeated every 1-2 years, depending on patient and family history, and on exam findings.

Is myopia really that dangerous?

Yes. The natural course of myopia is to increase by about 3/4 diopter each year. That means that by middle school, a child could enter the high myopia range, putting much more than their long distance vision at risk.

As their myopic eye(s) continues to grow abnormally, more strain is put on the retina and optic system. Diseases of the eye such as retinal detachment, cataracts and glaucoma are more likely to develop. Proper treatment that halts the progression will reduce this risk significantly and save your child’s eyesight.

As a child’s myopia increases, particularly if they have two myopic parents or one highly myopic parent, the risks to vision need to be taken very seriously. Better yet, as soon as a child becomes myopic is the right time to investigate better treatment than just glasses or contacts.

If your child’s myopia worsens regularly, especially if the yearly increase is 1 diopter or more, there is a very real danger and you should take them to a vision professional who will do more than just prescribe stronger glasses.

The bottom line

It is common for school children to wear glasses but you shouldn’t just settle for getting new ones every year as their eyes change. Take your child’s myopia seriously, particularly if both parents are myopic or one parent is highly myopic. Threats to their vision can be saved with early, professional intervention.

Next month we'll finish up here with more detail on treatment options, including Ortho-K, which can drastically slow myopic progression. In the meantime, if you have any concerns at all about your family’s eye health, contact Dr. Jackman at 714-543-2022.

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