It used to be that wearing glasses could get you teased. Not so long ago, glasses were uncommon enough to draw attention.
Not any more. Among children, one in four now requires some form of corrective lenses. But of all the causes of poor vision, myopia, or nearsightedness, has increased tremendously over the last two decades. A quarter of the world’s population now suffers from myopia – that’s 1.6 billion people. And that figure is expected to increase as we move through the century.
The numbers appear baffling. A recent study conduced by the National Institutes of Health examined rates of myopia in the US population. From the 1970s through the early years of the 21st century instances of nearsightedness have increased by 66%. Among the population affected, the greatest increases have been among children and young adults. Severe myopia was found to be twice as likely among adults ages 20-39 as compared to the elderly.
The causes revolve around changing lifestyles. It has long been known that activities that involve close-up vision disrupt normal blinking patterns and can contribute to eye strain. The increases in post secondary education have meant more reading while computer and tablet use along with the rise of smart phones have increased the strain we put on our eyes.
Prolonged eye strain can lead to a host of vision problems. Myopia, double vision, and even detached retinas and vision loss can result from overstressing the eyes.
As technology increasingly becomes the companion of our day-to-day lives, the effects it has on vision are spreading. It is common for even very young children to use handheld devices. The young are especially at risk because their eyes are still growing.
As our nation becomes more sedentary and less likely to spend appreciable time outdoors, we place our vision at risk. Outdoor light has been seen to have positive effects on vision. In fact, spending as little as 10-14 hours a week outdoors can help prevent the onset of early age myopia.
For children, the importance of stewarding vision is critical. The lure of videogames, tablets, and smart phones is difficult to resist. But the prolonged use of such devices involves specialized eye motor skills not yet developed in the young. Because young eyes are adaptive as they grow and develop, extensive use of visual media devices with a close-up working distance can train eyes to think that nearsighted conditions are the norm. And the consequences of early onset myopia are worse for the young than for adults. Patients suffering nearsightedness when young see the fastest rates of progression of the disorder. When myopia appears early in life, it has more time to develop.
Intervention is the best practice to help protect young eyes. Limiting the use of electronic devices while encouraging children to spend more time outdoors can help mitigate against the environmental factors that lead to myopia.
Dr. Cary Silverman and the vision team at EyeCare 20/20 have more than 25 years experience helping restore patients’ vision. Specializing in LASIK and other forms of eye surgery, they can answer questions about disorders and discuss what options best suit your vision needs.
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