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Childhood Myopia: Understanding Risks and Effective Management

Myopia, or nearsightedness, has become increasingly prevalent worldwide, posing significant concerns for your optometrist in Canberra, ophthalmologists and parents alike. Defined by the inability to see distant objects clearly, myopia often develops during childhood and can progress rapidly if left unchecked.

Myopia occurs when the eyeball grows too long, or the cornea is too curved, causing light rays to focus in front of the retina instead of directly on it. This results in blurred distance vision, while near vision remains relatively clear. The condition typically emerges in childhood and worsens during adolescence and generally early adulthood. If left unmanaged and high myopia develops, there is an increased risk of eye diseases such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, and macular degeneration later in life.

Risk Factors

Genetics: Genetics plays a significant role in the development of myopia. Children with one or both myopic parents are more likely to develop myopia themselves. The risk increases further if both parents are myopic.

Environmental Factors: Environmental factors contribute significantly to myopia rates beyond genetics. Prolonged near-work activities such as reading, screen time, and insufficient outdoor time have been linked to higher myopia rates.

Treating Myopia

Managing myopia involves a multifaceted approach aimed at providing clear vision, both at a distance and near, while also slowing down its progression (myopia control).

Spectacle Corrections:

  • Traditional single-vision distance spectacles aim to correct distance vision; however, they do not slow myopia progression. Bifocal and multifocal glasses have been shown to slow the progression, but even more effective are myopia-controlling spectacles, which cause peripheral retinal defocus by the use of tiny lenslets. These lenses look like ordinary lenses and effectively reduce myopia progression.

Orthokeratology (Ortho-K):

  • This involves wearing specially designed rigid contact lenses overnight. These lenses temporarily reshape the corneal epithelium, providing clear vision during the day without needing glasses or daytime contact lenses. Ortho-K has shown great promise in slowing myopia progression and also has the benefit of allowing your child to be glasses- and spectacle-free during the day, which is perfect for children with active lifestyles.

Soft Contact Lenses:

  • Single-vision contact lenses, like single-vision spectacles, correct distance vision but do not slow myopia progression. Multifocal contact lenses and specifically designed myopia-control contact lenses have the benefit of myopia control. These lenses are worn during the day and are safe for children to use if handled correctly.

Atropine Eye Drops:

  • Low-dose atropine eye drops are highly effective at controlling myopia and are known to reduce myopia progression. One drop is instilled each night and is generally well tolerated by children as it has a good safety profile. It is important to note, however, that low-dose atropine does not correct the child’s distance vision, and spectacles or contact lenses are still required.

The best myopia control option is ultimately the modality your child will be happiest with and what works best for your family. There are numerous things to consider, which your optometrist in Canberra will discuss in detail with your optometrist. The earlier myopia is treated, and myopia control commences, the better the long-term outcome for your child.