My Children Wear Glasses, Too!
Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a growing concern of many parents. It seems that children are starting to wear eyeglasses at a much younger age than in the past, which was the case with my own two children. Even though my wife and I did not start wearing eyeglasses until college, our sons began in second grade! The purpose of this article is to discuss the possible reasons why this may be happening.
What Is Myopia?
Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a condition of the eye that refers to a person’s inability to see objects at a distance. People who have myopia see objects at a distance as blurry, while objects up close appear clear.
What Causes Myopia?
Myopia occurs when the eyeball is slightly longer than usual from front to back. This causes light rays to focus at a point in front of the retina, rather than directly on its surface.
Blame Mom and Dad?
Nearsightedness runs in families and usually appears in childhood. Traditionally, eye doctors would tell concerned parents that their children’s vision was worsening due to heredity.
However, a disturbing trend has emerged. More and more, children are becoming nearsighted, even though their parents have no vision problems. As a matter of fact, a New York Times article stated that the prevalence of myopia has risen significantly over the past 20 years in the United States.
So, if genetics is not the only factor, what else contributes to myopia?
In addition to genetics, the development of myopia seems to be influenced by environmental factors such as near work activity. Simply put, our children are sending more and more time indoors, reading, studying or playing on electronic devices like computers, smart phones and iPads!
There are several theories as to why spending time indoors may be contributing to our children requiring eyeglasses. Recently, researchers suspect that outdoor light helps prevent our children’s eyes from developing myopia. In fact, they recommend that our children spend about 2 ½ hours a day playing outdoors to help prevent them from developing nearsightedness; this was not a problem when I was a youngster, but in today’s times, having children play outdoors has become less common.
In fact, between many parents working outside the home, increased academic demands and a plethora of entertainment inside our homes, playing outdoors has become a the exception, not the rule! This is sad on many fronts, and I’ll reserve this discussion for another time, but the upshot is scientists believe more and more of our children are wearing eyeglasses because of the significant time they spend indoors.
What Can Parents Do?
Sometimes the simplest of habits can make a huge difference. Here are just a few suggestions that attempt to limit the amount of continuous reading or near work our children perform:
— Encourage your children to play outdoors daily
— Reserve computer game use and television for the weekends
— Ask your child to take a break from close work every 20 minutes to help change their focus
— Use good posture while reading
How About Contact Lenses?
This year I spoke at an eye conference, “Vision By Design” in Chicago. The meeting centered around the use of specially designed “retainer” contact lenses that reshape the front surface of the eye, the cornea, in an effort to restore clear vision during the day.
Orthokeratology uses specially designed contact lenses that do not have a prescription, but rather gently reshape the cornea while you sleep. These retainer lenses are worn every night and removed during the day, allowing for clear vision without the use of eyeglasses or daytime contacts.
Early studies demonstrate that children who wear orthokeratology lenses show less progression in deterioration of vision than children that wear eyeglasses.
My two sons have worn orthokeratology lenses since 1999 and their vision has not deteriorated at all! This is very encouraging, especially because they needed eyeglasses at such a young age.
So, Can We Conquer Myopia?
It doesn’t appear that we will be able to conquer myopia in the near future. However, we can help tame it. With parental education, consistent use of “visual hygiene” techniques outlined above, and regular eye examinations, I feel we can limit the growing number of children becoming nearsighted.