If you have ever started your morning by rolling over and grasping for your glasses, you may have dreamt of there one day being a cure for nearsightedness. For now, the only way to correct nearsightedness (also known as myopia) is by wearing contacts or glasses, or with refractive surgery.
But advances in optometry in recent years have shown it’s possible to control the progression of myopia in children. This means nearsighted kids can enter adulthood with a lower prescription and potentially avoid the vision-threatening risks later in life that comes with a high degree of myopia.
Here’s how myopia control works in a child’s growing eyes and what you need to know to protect your child’s vision.
What Is Myopia?
People with myopia (nearsightedness) have blurry distance vision, but can see clearly close up, like when they’re reading or writing. A myopic eye is too long from front to back. This causes light to be focused in front of the retina instead of right on it, resulting in blurred distance vision.
Should I Worry About My Child Being Nearsighted?
A mild or moderate amount of nearsightedness can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. But high myopia, defined as –5 D or more of correction as indicated on a prescription, carries risks of eye diseases and conditions that can cause irreversible vision loss.
For example, someone with high myopia has a 50% higher risk of glaucoma, 17% higher risk of needing cataract surgery, and 5–6 times the risk of a retinal detachment according to the National Institutes of Health.
How Does Myopia Control Help?
The goal of myopia control is to slow the progression of myopia so that a nearsighted child enters adulthood with a lower prescription and lower risks of vision loss later in life.
Researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why different types of myopia control work. Generally speaking, they aim to control the stimulus that causes the eye to grow longer and nearsightedness to worsen.
What Are the Most Common Types of Myopia Control for Children?
Your child’s optometrist can recommend a particular type of myopia control for your child based on their age, prescription, and other needs.
Multifocal Contact Lenses
These daily disposable soft contacts both correct a child’s vision and refocus the way light enters the retina to slow myopia progression.
Atropine Eye Drops
Atropine, which is the same medication used to dilate your eyes in an eye exam, has also been shown to be effective in slowing the progression of myopia. Atropine drops are typically given nightly. In the morning, the child will need to wear their regular glasses for vision correction.
Worn just like regular glasses, multifocal glasses for myopia control work similarly to their contact lens counterparts. They both correct a child’s vision and refocus how light enters the eye.
Orthokeratology (ortho-k) contact lenses are worn only at night, during which time they reshape a child’s eyes so they have clear vision during the day without wearing contacts. Ortho-k only corrects vision and slows myopia progression while in use; nearsightedness will return when the lenses aren’t worn anymore.
Is Myopia Preventable?
There is a genetic component to myopia, so if one or both parents are nearsighted, their child is more likely to be too. But there is also evidence it may be possible to prevent myopia.
The National Eye Institute states that “the best prevention for myopia in children is more time outdoors.” It’s not clear exactly why this time outside is important, but one theory is that sunlight spurs the release of dopamine in the retina, signalling to the eye that it doesn’t need to grow longer.
It used to be believed that children who spent a lot of time indoors doing close-up activities like reading were at higher risk of developing myopia. But researchers have found it’s the lack of time outdoors, not time spent reading, that is associated with myopia.
When Should I Bring My Child For a Myopia Exam?
Comprehensive eye care is important for ensuring your child can see clearly as well as making sure nothing gets in the way of their development, especially at an early age when they’re learning so much, so fast.
Your child’s first eye exam should happen between 6 and 12 months of age, and they should have their next one between ages 3–5 before they start school. They should have annual eye exams once they’re in school, as these are the years when myopia is most likely to emerge and worsen.
Your optometrist can advise you on a custom exam schedule for your child if they’re at an increased risk of developing myopia or other conditions.
Request an Appointment
We love welcoming young patients into our practices in the Metropolitan D.C. area. It’s a chance to put parents’ minds at ease about their child’s vision health, and to help kids see with clearer vision than they knew was possible.
Book an eye exam for your child at Eye Rx today.