A Focus On Nearsightedness
Now that nearly half of the U.S. population is nearsighted, many people are wondering if there is a way to stop this epidemic. Luckily, we live in an era where research is constantly being conducted. Here is a breakdown of why we need to be concerned about the increase in myopia and what treatments show promise in slowing down its progression.
What is Myopia?
Myopia is a fancy word for nearsightedness. It occurs for two reasons: the eye is longer than the refractive power of the lens and cornea, or the lens and/or cornea is too curved for the length of the eye. This focuses light in front of the retina resulting in clear vision when looking at objects that are close to you and blurry vision when you’re looking at something far away. Nearsightedness is one of the most common eye conditions, affecting 41% of Americans. Although it is easily corrected with glasses or contacts, studies show that myopia is linked to more serious eye conditions later in life.
Why worry about nearsightedness?
Myopia has been linked to an increase in cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment, and myopic macular degeneration. As expected, the higher the amount of myopia, the higher the risk of those conditions. While there are excellent treatments available for some of these conditions, the risk of blindness cannot be ignored. The goal of today’s myopia control research is to learn what the trigger for progression is and how to eliminate it.
Orthokeratology, or simply ortho-k, is a non-surgical method to correct nearsightedness. A gas-permeable contact lens that gently reshapes your cornea is worn overnight. In the morning, the contact lens is removed and the nearsightedness is corrected. Ortho-k is a semi-permanent solution to myopia; it only works while you use it. It has, however, been shown to slow the progression of worsening eyesight.
One of the biggest benefits to ortho-k is the freedom from wearing glasses or contacts during the day. This is an excellent option for kids in sports or other activities where eyewear gets in the way. Studies have shown that kids as young as 6 may be trained to safely wear ortho-k lenses. Some of the drawbacks of this method include cost, risk of infection, and comfort of the contacts. Your optometrist will discuss all the pros and cons of this method before pursuing it.
Multifocal contacts aren’t just for adults anymore. These are showing promise in slowing the progression of nearsightedness when fit on children. Most people are familiar with soft contact lenses so this method of treatment is more easily accepted. They are also available in daily disposables so risk of infection is greatly reduced. Many studies around the world are evaluating the long-term effectiveness of multifocal contacts and are showing the rate of progression to be reduced by 30-50%.
The last method of control we’ll discuss here is also the newest and least understood. There have been recent studies showing that using diluted atropine can slow the progression of myopia. Although atropine is a dilating drop, the diluted version has minimal side effects, but the long term efficacy of this treatment is unknown. This may be a beneficial option to kids who are unable to wear contacts or who fail to respond to the other methods above. Continued research is being done on atropine and other topical medications to determine if this is a worthwhile treatment option.
Much more research is needed before we have clear answers as to what causes nearsightedness and how to prevent it. There are definitely multiple factors involved, including environment and genetics. If mom and dad are nearsighted, there’s a good chance their kids will be too. If you are concerned about your child’s nearsightedness, please don’t hesitate to ask Dr. Pulsfus to find out if your child would be a candidate for any of these methods.