Short-sightedness – also called myopia – is on the increase, and now affects up to 40% of Australian school children. These alarming figures are only set to increase over time.
'Myopia control' is a term used to describe a range of techniques that slow down (or even stop) short-sightedness from getting worse. It is different to traditional myopia management, which usually involves a pair or glasses or contact lenses. While these devices provide good distance vision, they do nothing to slow down the progression of myopia in children.
Why slow down myopia?
Put simply, the more short-sighted you are, the more at risk your eyes are for diseases such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and macular disease. The difference between being -3 and -6 is massive in terms of increased risk.
If your child has recently been diagnosed with myopia – or distance blur – then the best thing you can do for them is to ensure that everything is done to stop, or at least slow down, their myopia. This means they will stabilise at a lower level of short sight compared to if you do nothing other than get a pair of distance glasses.
What are the best options for myopia control?
The good news is that there are a range of effective methods to slow down or stop myopia from getting worse. This eye condition usually begins around puberty or a few years earlier and progresses (gets worse) through the teenage years. It may even begin in the late teens, particularly if your teenager is attending university. (This is because prolonged close work is a major risk factor).
Once the early twenties are reached, the myopia usually stabilises and doesn’t change much from then on. If you can slow down the process in the teenage years, you can end up being a lot less short-sighted by the time it stabilises.
How come I haven’t heard of it before?
For decades, optometrists have been prescribing bifocal glasses for their children to prevent them from becoming short-sighted. But it never really took off for the general public – what would be the point of putting your child in glasses just so they may not need glasses when they are older?
It’s hard to get your head around, but the point is that wearing these glasses (especially for reading) for a few years childhood can prevent a life-time of myopia and all that goes with it – dependence on glasses, contact lens hassles, and, worst of all, significantly increased risk of eye disease. It’s a bit like getting dental braces: a bit of a hassle for a few years for a life-time of benefit.
The good news is that these methods are slowly but surely creeping into mainstream use in optometry practices around the country and are much more widely available – and successful – than ever. Over the past decade there have been extraordinary advances in myopia control – driven in part by the pandemic of myopia in East Asia (where up to 90% of school leavers are short-sighted). These methods include ortho-k, multifocal contact lenses, atropine eye drops as well as certain types of glasses.
Which method works best?
That depends on a number of factors including the age of your child, their glasses prescription (how short-sighted they are), their level of maturity, how willing the parents are to get involved etc.
Contact lens options such as multifocals and ortho-k and require scrupulous hygiene and compliance. Atropine eye drops require less of the child / parent, but can produce some side effects in some children. Your experienced therapeutically-qualified optometrist is the best person to discuss it with.