The Problems with Myopia

[30/07/2013]

The Problems with Myopia

Myopia

Myopia, or near sightedness which it is much more commonly known as, is a very prevalent eye condition in the world now. When somebody is near sighted, he or she can see near objects clearly but their distance vision is very blurred. In my part of the world (East Asia), it is fast becoming a problem of epidemic proportions! Just look at some of the scary statistics coming from epidemiology studies which have been done.

Myopia SG

As you can see, the prevalence of myopia is increasing at an alarming rate in all the major ethnic groups in Singapore and these numbers are similarly seen in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.

What is happening?

Studies have shown that genetics do play a part in the development of myopia but genetics alone would not explain the increasing prevalence we are seeing. The environment obviously has a large part to play and we now believe that the major contributor to the development of myopia is near work/activities.

In our current "digital" world, we are surrounded by computers and mobile devices and it is very common to see children (and adults) staring into a smartphone or mobile device (iPad, Galaxy tab, etc) at a bus stop, in a train, during a meal or during any conceivable activity! In my practice, I am seeing more and more children needing to wear glasses at a younger and younger age and all this technology is largely responsible. Coupled with the fact that our children now are also being pushed to read more, study hard, learn the computer and the parents being busy individuals often "babysit" their children with an iPad or the television - it is no wonder the myopia rates are climbing at such an astonishing rate!

Dangers of Myopia?

Not many people are aware however, being myopic can be associated with certain potentially blinding diseases. Aside from the fact that a myopic individual will have to be dependent on corrective lenses (either glasses or contact lenses) in order to see properly, if someone has myopia of greater than 6 diopters (or commonly referred to as 600 degrees), he or she will be considered to have pathological myopia.

Individuals with pathological myopia are at increased risk of developing conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, cataract and macular degeneration. All these diseases if left untreated, can lead to blindness! (Click on the links above to read about each condition)

Is LASIK a cure?

 
The answer is a resounding NO! Laser refractive surgery is not a "cure" for myopia as such. It is only an alternative to glasses and contact lenses and a very good one at that!

Laser refractive surgery reshapes the cornea and therefore, re-focuses light rays entering a myopic eye so that everything is brought to a sharp focus without the need for glasses or contact lenses. Laser treatment does not alter the eyeball as such which means that any pathologically myopic eye will still have the increased risks of the above mentioned diseases. Therefore, it is important to continue to have regular checkups even after successful laser refractive surgery.



What can we do?

baby with glasses

We can start by cultivating good habits in our children as they are the ones who are most at risk of this "epidemic". There have been recent studies which have shown that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia or have progression of their myopia so we can start by reducing their near work activities or at least ensuring that they get sufficient breaks during their near work activities. A 20-20-20 rule can be easy to remember and to apply i.e. every 20 minutes, to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds!

All the "old wive's tales" we have heard before are in fact, good habits to practice:-

1) To read with good lighting, sitting up, and our reading material at least 30 cm away

2) Computer screens should be at 50cm distance for comfortable viewing

3) Should be sitting at least 2 metres away from the television when we are watching it