Children Eye Health – What Parents Need to Know About Childhood Myopia

Childhood Myopia – Increased prevalence of myopia a rising concern

The prevalence of myopia in Singapore is among the highest in the world, with 65 percent of our children being myopic by Primary 6, and 83 percent of young adults being myopic. As such, Singapore is often labelled as the “Myopia Capital of the World”By 2050, it is projected that 80 to 90 per cent of all Singaporean adults above 18 years old will be myopic and 15 to 25 per cent of these individuals may have high myopia (Statistics provided by Ministry of Health).

High myopia puts one at risk of many eye disorders later in life, such as early cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration. These complications often cause significant morbidity and may even be sight threatening.

What is childhood myopia (shortsightedness)?

Childhood myopia is a progressive form of short-sightedness (myopia) that occurs during a child’s growing years and worsens throughout childhood.

Childhood myopia arises from excessive growth and elongation of the eyeball. This results in light rays from distant objects focusing in front of the retina instead of on the retina. Distant objects are thus seen to be blurred but near objects remain clear.

The condition is easily corrected with corrective visual aids like glasses, and the condition usually stabilizes when a child reaches his or her mid-teens. (Article by Singhealth)

Causes of Childhood Myopia

Evidence indicates that progressive childhood myopia or short-sightedness is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. We know that children of myopic parents are more likely to have myopia.

There is also evidence that environmental influences interacting with genes play a major role. Other habits such as long periods of detailed or close work and childhood illnesses may also influence the progression of myopia.

Another reason could be the intensity of near work, such as reading, studying and computer usage, that takes place in daily life.

Symptoms of childhood myopia

School-age children may complain that they cannot see the whiteboard at school or the bus number of the oncoming bus at the bus stop.

Other signs of myopia include :

  • Squinting while doing homework, reading or watching TV
  • Rubbing of eyes
  • Blinking
  • Fatigue

Prevention / Treatment of childhood myopia

Myopia cannot be reversed or cured, but it can be slowed or prevented :

Practicing good eye care habits is one of the best ways to prevent myopia in your child. While near work (such as schoolwork, working on computers or reading) is unavoidable, ensure that your child takes frequent breaks to rest his/ her eyes. Parents can encourage children to practice good eye care habits to prevent myopia from occurring or worsening.

Glasses can correct myopia.

The Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) has successfully conducted clinical trials* to investigate the progression of childhood myopia with the use of atropine eyedrops.

*(Atropine in the Treatment of Myopia (ATOM) Study)

Practise these good eye care habits :

  • Have your child participate in more outdoor activities
  • Hold any reading material 30 cm away from the face/eyes and always read while sitting upright
  • Be seated at least two metres away when watching television
  • Computer screens should be placed approximately 50 cm away from eyes and adjusted for minimal glare
  • Lighting should be sufficient to illuminate the room when reading, using the computer or watching television without causing any glare
  • Take a break to rest your eyes every 30 to 40 minutes. Look out of the window at distant objects to relax the eyes.

Yearly eye examinations are also important to detect any vision problems early. Corrective visual aids like glasses, when required, will help the eye to focus better.

Myopia cannot be prevented or improved by :

  • Avoiding the use of spectacles
  • Reducing the power of the glasses (i.e. undercorrection)
  • Taking dietary supplements such as Vitamin A Eye exercises, acupressure or vision training