Nearsightedness, or myopia, the condition of those who can’t see objects at a distance, is increasing at an alarming rate, according to the World Health Organization.
The National Eye Institute at the National Institutes of Health states that about 42 percent of Americans are myopic, up from 25 percent in 1971. Responding to the rising number of children with blurry vision caused by myopia, the University Eye Institute is offering a Myopia Management Service to correct and manage nearsightedness in children.
It’s the first of its kind in Texas. Myopia typically appears when children are in their early school years and can be associated with long-term eye health problems such as glaucoma and macular degeneration. No conclusive studies link the rise of myopia in children to their increased use of technology, but enough research and anecdotal evidence exists to support these theories.
“Children are doing a lot more ‘near work’ even before kindergarten, especially on digital devices, and not getting outside as much,” said Kathryn Richdale, University of Houston associate professor and optometrist. “At the same time, we’re seeing this staggering increase in myopia.”
Treatments offered by the Myopia Management Service will have the maximum impact during childhood, a time of rapid myopic progression.
“We can’t stop or reverse myopia, but we can slow down the progression,” said Richdale. “We use certain eye drops or specialty multifocal or orthokeratology lenses.” The orthokeratology lenses are worn while users are sleeping and temporarily re-shape the eyes so users don’t need glasses during the day. If patients continue wearing the lenses, they slow down the progression of myopia.”
Focusing on a typical patient
One such patient wearing the contacts at night is 12-year old Joaquin Martinez, who says he rarely, if ever, misses a night. Only slightly myopic, he hates wearing his glasses.
“I strongly dislike them,” said Martinez, mirroring a sentiment shared by many young patients, according to Richdale.
Lots of his schoolwork is done on digital textbooks, so he’s on the computer at school as well as at home where he is a self-confessed video game fanatic. Martinez represents a pretty typical American pre-teen, and something more – a study in why myopia rates may have climbed dramatically in the last few decades.
“Outdoor time appears to be very good in cutting the risk for nearsightedness,” said Richdale. “We do not fully understand why, but it may be related to the idea that when people are outside there is generally brighter light and eyes are focusing on objects farther away.”
The University Eye Institute Myopia Management Service is located on the University of Houston campus inside Health Building 2 at 4901 Calhoun. For more information, call 713-743-2015.