Myopia control: can you minimise short-sightedness in children?
Short-sightedness is a condition that makes it difficult to see objects in the distance. It’s commonly passed down through generations, though exactly how is not yet understood.
Typically, short-sightedness is corrected with glasses or contact lenses, but recently there has been emerging research into ‘myopia control’ — the practice of attempting to minimise the progression of short-sightedness in children. So here, we’ll take a look at what causes myopia, and whether myopia control can help short-sightedness in children.
What is myopia?
Short-sighted, near-sighted or myopic: these words all apply to someone with the same condition — myopia. Myopia is a common condition that causes people to struggle to see objects in the distance and is usually corrected by glasses or contact lenses.
Currently, there are a number of research projects looking into the different ways myopia can be prevented or slowed down at an earlier age — specifically in children.
While many people may want to avoid the inconvenience of glasses, there are more good reasons behind this research. Myopia is on the rise and, according to the National Institute of Blind People, high levels of myopia can increase the likelihood of developing sight-threatening problems including glaucoma, retinal detachment and macular degeneration.
How do I know if my child has myopia?
If your child has myopia, then they may complain about; the inability to see into the distance, headaches, eye strain, and even fatigue. Even if your child does not complain about their eyes or headaches specifically, there are other key signs you can look out for, including clumsiness, lack of concentration, ‘naughty’ behaviour and falling behind with schoolwork or some developmental milestones.
If you are concerned about myopia in your child, then the best step is to take them for an eye test at your local opticians. Children can be tested at any age, even if they can’t yet read or talk.
While the optician will use the well-known letter chart with older children, with younger children they can show them pictures or shapes. They can also assess how long or short-sighted your child is simply by shining a light into their eye using a technique called retinoscopy. Retinoscopy can determine a glasses prescription without the patient needing to say anything — so the optometrist would not need to rely on your child giving any answers to accurately evaluate their eyesight.
What causes myopia?
Most children begin life as long-sighted, but this does not typically cause vision problems because a child’s eye is made up of a highly flexible natural focusing system. As the child grows, their eyes grow too, and this usually corrects any issues.
Ideally, their eyes will grow to the point where the light rays focus accurately on the back of the eyes — specifically, on the retina — which results in clear vision. Myopia, however, causes the light rays to focus in front of the retina, resulting in short-sightedness. This means myopia becomes more common as children grow and is most likely to occur between the ages of six and 13 years. In fact, nearly one in five teenagers in the UK are now myopic.1
For many people, myopia runs in families: so, if you are myopic, your children are more likely to be myopic too. Children with one parent with myopia are at least three times more likely to be myopic than those without a myopic parent. This increases to more than seven times more likely when both parents are myopes.1 What’s more, certain ethnic groups are more likely to have myopia, including people of Asian, East Asian and African American origin.
The environment can also play a factor: children in rural China had a lower prevalence of myopia than those growing up in cities.2 A study of children in Ireland also found that lifestyle factors — such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and overuse of screens — also played a role, though they advised that more long term research was needed to assess the effect of these factors more thoroughly.3
Can I minimise myopia?
We are beginning to know more about the causes of myopia and there is also research being carried out into ways to control myopia.
For children who have early signs of short-sightedness, a practice called ‘myopia control’ has emerged that aims to minimise the progression of it through a few different methods. Some of these include using certain types of bifocal lenses or multifocal contact lenses, eye drops and spending more time outside.4
It’s important to note, however, that this research is in its early stages, and more long-term studies need to be pursued to know definitively whether minimising myopia progression is possible.5
Ultimately, if you are concerned about your child’s eyesight, it’s best to book them an appointment for an eye test. Children benefit from regular eye tests as their eyes change as they grow, and if your child is short-sighted, our opticians will be able to help you understand what you can do to minimise their discomfort.
1. Vision UK (2016). Study shows myopia prevalence in children in the UK has more than doubled in the last 50 years - VISION UK. The College of Optometrists [online]
2. Foster, P. J. (2014). Epidemiology of myopia. Eye, 28, pp.202-208.
3. Harrington, S. C., Stack, J., and O’Dwyer, V. (2019). Risk factors associated with myopia in schoolchildren in Ireland. British Journal of Ophthalmology.
4. Xiong, S., Sankaridurg, P., Naduvilath, T., Zang, J., Zou, H., Zhu, J., Lv, M., He, X. and Xu, X. (2017). Time spent in outdoor activities in relation to myopia prevention and control: a meta-analysis and systematic review. Acta Ophthalmologica, [online] 95(6), pp.551-566.
5. Walline, J. J. (2016). Myopia Control: A Review. 42(01), pp.3-8
MOptom (Hons) MCOptom Dip Tp(IP) Prof Cert Glau Prof Cert Med Ret
Hayley is an optometrist and prior to joining Specsavers in 2016 has worked in a variety of settings, including hospital and independent practice. Most notably, Hayley was National Optometry Development Manager for Ultralase, and is a refractive surgery and intra-ocular lens specialist. Read more