Are you worried that your child’s prescription just goes up and up (and their glasses get thicker and thicker) every year? Maybe you’ve also heard that in addition to the inconvenience and cost of ever-increasing glasses prescriptions, this can also lead to potentially devastating eye health conditions. Or that this phenomenon is becoming concerningly more common in recent years. Now more than ever before, eye doctors have the ability to treat this disease, rather than just accepting it.
First, what is Myopia?
Throughout life, eyes go through various stages of normal development, change, and growth. Myopia is a condition in which this process is not regulated properly by the body and as a result the eye becomes excessively elongated. Historically, the term “myopia” has been used interchangeably with “nearsightedness” because the first thing most myopic people experience is vision which is clear up close but blurry far away. The more time goes on, however, the more we realize that myopia is not simply a matter of distance blur, but rather a much more complex disease with potentially serious outcomes, and one that also has viable treatment options.
As mentioned above, myopia is fundamentally a disease where the eye elongates beyond the ideal shape. Current research suggests that this growth occurs disproportionately in the sclera (the white, tough shell of the eye), while other critical structures such as the retina (the thin, delicate neurological layer that senses light) and the choroid (the layer that supplies oxygen and nutrients to the inner eye) do not fully grow but rather stretch to accommodate this shape change. Through this process, the retina and choroid become weaker and thinner.
This progressive deterioration dramatically increases the risk of blinding conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinal detachments, and cataracts. It has been said that “there is no safe level of myopia” but it is also true that the higher the level of myopia, the greater the risk of serious problems. Instead of the traditional school of thought, where myopia was merely an inconvenience that simply warranted glasses, a better analogy would be high blood pressure, which in itself does not cause major harm but does dramatically increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Part of the reason that so much more attention is being paid to myopia nowadays is that the prevalence of myopia is growing so quickly that many experts consider it an epidemic. While genetics play a role in myopia development, the increases in myopia worldwide over recent decades are much too rapid to be explained by genetics alone. It is likely not a coincidence that this trend coexists with our increasing tendency to spend more time indoors and extensively viewing things at close proximity such as cell phones and computers.
So what can we do about it?
While the idea of managing or controlling myopic degeneration and progression has been of interest for a long time, our understanding and our treatment options continue to get better and better. We now have multiple treatment modalities that can be effective individually or used in combination with one another. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to myopia control, and all treatment options have characteristics that could be strengths or weaknesses for any given patient. Most commonly, specialized multifocal contact lenses, corneal reshaping lenses, and/or prescription eye drops are used, but in some cases special prescription glasses can be helpful as well. Ask your doctor or one of our staff for more information on what you can do- actions taken now can provide a profound lifelong benefit for you or your child.