Myopia in Childhood: Screens to Blame

Cases of Myopia (near-sightedness) have doubled since the 1960s and will double again by 2050 according to the WHO. Now industry experts have launched a new resource to build awareness.

Background

Myopia can lead to serious sight-threatening conditions and even blindness. Research published at the end of 2021 shows an association between screen time and the risk and progression of the disease. Optometrists report a sharp rise in the number of cases of children who are struggling to see the board at school. The pandemic and lockdowns have accelerated this alarming change.

Now a new campaign and educational resource focuses on the myopia epidemic gripping children in the UK. Myopia (also known as short-sightedness) affects one in three people in the UK. Moreover it is now twice as common as in the 1960s. Significantly, serious cases can lead to serious eye problems later in life. This can include complications that lead to blindness.

So, although a search of our pages yields relatively little on this important condition, we’re more than happy to redress the balance with this coverage.

New Myopia Portal

Recognising the crisis is Optometrist, Jason Higginbotham (pictured). Alongside a team of leading myopia specialists, he has launched MyopiaFocus.org. This is a new, parent-focused portal to raise awareness of the epidemic. It hopes to connect parents with local myopia management specialists and help them understand their child’s condition.

myopia in focus with Jason Higginbotham

Specialist Comments

Jason says, “I’ve launched this campaign because I am concerned at the lack of understanding and support for what is going on with children’s eyes right now. Increased use of screens, close work, and lack of outdoor time have been proven to have had a significant impact on myopia becoming an epidemic. The genetic element will also compound the issues caused by modern lifestyles.

“We need to highlight the urgent need for proactive myopia management. A personalised eye care plan can significantly decrease the progression of the condition in children by as much as 50 per cent or more. As people are unaware that eye tests in schools are limited, unless parents act and have their child’s eyes tested, it may go undetected.”

Myopia is now considered by the World Council of Optometry (WCO) as a ‘serious eye condition that all children should be screened for’. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that up to half of all people will be affected by 2050.

WHO comments

In 2015, the WCO declared that the ‘standard of care for myopia must include early detection in children. This would allow myopia management with evidence-based treatments to prevent catastrophic healthcare effect.’ Progress in delivering these objectives has not been rapid enough.

In the years before screens, children played outside, which provided more natural light and allowed the eyes to focus on long distances. Nowadays play and education sees kids sat in front of iPads, phones, and computers. As a result the eyes are too regularly focused on objects right in front of them. There is less distance viewing and less light, and little switching between focuses because children are more likely to be indoors. 

Prominent specialists are backing the portal, including Optometrist of the Year 2020, Dr Keyur Patel from TK&S Optometrists. He said: “For many years, it was felt that a refractive solution was all that was needed to ‘treat’ this condition. Since as early as 1998 we have known that increasing myopia with increasing axial length puts our patients at increased risk of (currently) irreversible visual disability. In the worst cases this can lead to blindness.

“We now have many tools at our disposal to try to reduce the potential levels. It is up to eyecare professionals to educate our patients. The new portal provides a valuable resource and I hope it can help kick start these conversations with parents.”

Joining the Dots for Parents

Leading myopia management pioneer, Bhavin Shah from London-based Central Vision Opticians, said: “Many parents have been able to help slow down the deterioration in their child’s sight but there are significantly more who aren’t aware about the latest technology that can help their child. At every eye test, their kid’s eyes get worse, and they end up getting stronger glasses. Parents must know that we can break that cycle and reduce the rate of change to help protect their children’s eyes. They need to start as soon as possible to make the biggest impact.”

Myopia Focus has launched a change.org campaign. This seeks to get the NHS to recognise the condition as an ocular disease and fund myopia management. Onset usually occurs between six and thirteen years of age and earlier onset is associated with higher levels of myopia in adult life. 2.6 billion people in the world are myopic. Around the world, countries such as Singapore and South Korea have very high concentrations with 80 per cent or more of the people with it.

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