Skip to main content
Home » Eye health » Short-sightedness now a global epidemic
Vision and Eye Health 2019

Short-sightedness now a global epidemic

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Sinenkiy

David Cartwright

Optometrist and Chairman of Eye Health UK

It’s predicted that half the people on the planet will be short-sighted (myopic) by 2050 and, most worryingly, levels of ‘high myopia’ – a prescription of -6 or more – are also on the rise. This is a concern because ‘high myopia’ can increase your risk of sight-threatening conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts.

Myopia, also called short-sightedness, is a common eye condition that causes objects that are far away to appear blurred, while close objects can be seen clearly. It currently affects around one in three adults in the UK.

An ongoing study in the UK, known as the NICER study, recently demonstrated that the prevalence of myopia among school-aged children has doubled over the past 50 years and children are becoming myopic at an earlier age than in the past. Today one in five British teens is myopic.

Lower your risk of myopia

Genetic, ethnic, and environmental risk factors call all play a part in the onset of short-sightedness.

Having myopic parents can increase your risk of developing myopia, if one parent is myopic, there is a three times risk that the child will be. This risk factor can increase to between five and eight times when both parents are myopic.

However, the current epidemic is thought to be ‘acquired rather than genetic’.

Myopia among school-aged children has doubled over the past 50 years.

Intensive near work (writing, reading, and working on a computer) has been associated with myopia developing in children. Increasingly sedentary social lives of children and young people may also be contributing to the increase.

However, these risk factors can be offset by spending time outside – research shows children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to be or become myopic, even if there is a genetic risk.

Importance of the outdoors

It is known that being outdoors can reduce a child’s risk of developing myopia, yet youngsters simply aren’t outdoors enough. A recent study commissioned by the National Trust found that children spend half the time playing outside that their parents did. Today, youngsters spend just four hours a week outdoors comparedwith 8.2 hours for their parents when they were children.

Parental anxiety, demanding homework schedules and the rise of electronic entertainment are increasingly keeping children indoors. But, balancing indoor and outdoor pursuits is important – researchers have found that the lack of time children spend outdoors, rather than the increased time they spend on near work, is the more important factor in preventing and slowing myopia.

Two hours a day spent playing outdoors could be really beneficial when it comes to kids’ eye health.

Crucial sight tests

Early intervention can help slow down further increases in myopia, so regular sight tests, at school entry then once every two years unless advised otherwise by your optometrist, are important, especially for primary-aged children and teens.

Myopia control as there is no cure

There is no cure for myopia, but certain treatments are known to slow down the rate of progression in children.

Recent research has found that soft multifocal contact lenses—where the centre zone of the lens gives clear far-distance vision and the peripheral zones help with close-up focusing — are effective in reducing myopia progression in children who wear these lenses daily.

Contact lenses, inducing a change in how the eye focuses, reduce abnormal eye growth, which in turn reduces the prescription.

Other therapy options include OrthoK, atropine and spectacles.

The best myopia control will depend on a number of factors: age, prescription (level of myopia and astigmatism), eye shape, pupil size, eye sensitivity, compliance with wearing and caring for your lenses and your lifestyle.

Your dispensing optician or contact lens practitioner will guide you through the options and help you select the most appropriate solution for you or your child.

Next article