How to Identify and Treat Nearsightedness in Children

Carbon Health Editorial Team
August 31, 2022
6 min

Myopia is one of the most common vision conditions in the world, affecting millions of adolescents in the US alone. In simple words, it refers to a condition that makes distant objects blurry and close objects clear. It occurs when the eyeball is long from front to back or when the cornea is unusually curved; when this happens, the rays of light cannot reach the retina normally.

Sometimes called “nearsightedness,” myopia begins to manifest from the age of six to fourteen. It often needs medical care, such as contact lenses, glasses, or corrective surgery. Statistics indicate that nearsightedness has been increasing in recent years – around 9% of schoolchildren and 30% of teens now have myopia. This article lays out information on the symptoms, treatment and prevention of myopia so parents can be more prepared to face this vision problem.

Why Nearsightedness Is Increasing in Children and Teens

First, let’s talk about why rates of myopia in children and teens have been rising. Research has pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a potential contributor to this increase, as the amount of time spent outdoors is correlated with myopia. 

Not only have quarantines and restrictions kept many kids indoors, but school closures have led to an increase in children using screens. Excessive screen use is known to increase the risk of myopia, and the pandemic only encouraged screen use. 

Schoolchildren and teens had to do their schoolwork online in much of the world, in addition to their existing screen time habits like video games, television, and cell phones.  As the pandemic pushed schooling online, time spent looking at screens has increased dramatically, and so too have rates of myopia

Symptoms of Myopia:

So what does nearsightedness look like in children or teens? Well, there are a few different symptoms to be aware of.

  • The most prominent symptom of myopia is blurry vision at a distance – your child may struggle to read what’s written on the whiteboard, or not recognize a friend from across the street
  • Another symptom of nearsightedness is squinting. Squinting is an attempt to see better at a distance, so it’s also a sign of myopia.
  • Excessive eye rubbing is another general sign of vision troubles and can indicate myopia. This might be an attempt to relieve pain from the constant eye strain.
  • Finally, frequent headaches often result from vision troubles and can indicate nearsightedness.

These symptoms, particularly the first one, are indications of myopia. If you notice them in yourself or your child, consider visiting a healthcare provider. 

Myopia Treatment and Prevention:

If you’re interested in preventing nearsightedness in yourself or your children, there are a number of steps you can take. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: one of the best things to do is increase the amount of time spent outdoors. 

As discussed above, spending time in outdoor light helps to prevent excessive exposure to the type of indoor light which can lead to myopia. Increasing the amount of time spent outdoors also reduces the amount of screen time indoors, which is correlated with myopia.

You should give the eyes a break when doing “near work,” like writing, reading, or playing video games. Doctors recommend the 20-20-20 rule: every twenty minutes, look at something twenty feet away for twenty seconds. This allows your eyes to relax.

If working longer than 2 consecutive hours, take a 15 minute break in addition to the 20-20-20 rule.

And of course, don’t forget regular eye exams. Your optometrist may be able to catch possible eye issues before they cause complications. 

Now, what does treatment look like? The simplest solution to nearsightedness is corrective lenses in the form of glasses or contact lenses. These solutions, often prescribed together, can alleviate myopia and the squinting, eye rubbing, and headaches that come with it. Corrective lenses change how light enters your eye, which reduces the blurriness that strains the eye. Since rubbing and irritating the eye can make myopia worsen overtime, it’s important to get corrective lenses as soon as possible.

Another option that can be prescribed by doctors is the use of low dose atropine eye drops. Atropine is a chemical used for a variety of different medical purposes, but it is perhaps most recognizable as the active ingredient in the eye drops patients sometimes receive when examined by an optometrist. In lower concentrations, atropine eye drops can be used daily to help to treat nearsightedness.

What Causes Nearsightedness?

Myopia has a variety of potential causes.

  • Genetics can play a role in the prevalence of myopia. While it is not a solely genetic condition, nearsightedness is more likely to occur in children whose families have a history of it. If your family has a history of myopia, make sure to mention it to your doctor.
  • Environmental factors can play a large role in myopia as well. These factors include diabetes, which can cause changes in blood sugar levels that affect the eye.
  • Screen time is another important factor in the incidence of myopia. Time spent looking at a screen up close has been linked to nearsightedness, particularly in children.
  • Finally, visual habits can play a role in myopia as well. Excessive amounts of time doing “near work”, like reading or looking through a microscope, can lead to nearsightedness.

Although the exact cause of myopia has not been determined, it is known that these four things can increase your risk for myopia.

What is the Highest Myopia?

“High myopia” is an extreme form of myopia that is more prevalent in those diagnosed with myopia at a young age. Technically, it is defined as nearsightedness of -6 diopters, which are a unit used by optometrists and other scientists to measure lenses. While it is more common in those diagnosed with nearsightedness early in life, it can occur in adulthood because of diabetes or because of extended periods of visual strain.

High myopia increases the risk of conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment, so it is very important to treat with corrective lenses or laser surgery, though surgery can only be done on adults. If your child or adolescent has high myopia, regular eye exams and the advice of a healthcare professional are essential to maintain good ocular health.

Conclusion

Myopia has been increasing in children and teens in recent years due to reduced time outdoors and excessive screen time, made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. Therefore, it’s very important to make sure that children and adolescents are not spending too much time with screens. 

Children should also undergo regular eye exams, particularly if your child has any eye complications like myopia, vision loss, changes in vision, seeing double, blurry vision or light sensitivity

A Carbon Health medical specialist can help you and your family treat your vision problems. Uncorrected myopia can lead to further eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma, so it’s important to treat it as early as possible.

Carbon Health Editorial Team

The Carbon Health Editorial Team is a group of writers, content creators, and thought leaders who are here to empower you to take charge of your health.

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