Myopia Awareness Week – understanding myopia: a go-to-guide for parents

Myopia, commonly known as short-sightedness, is a prevalent vision condition that affects 6.3 million Australians and experts predict that more than half of us will be myopic by 2050.

Now, with almost five percent of children diagnosed with the condition by the age of 14, research also shows that myopia is occurring earlier in life; in 1983, the typical onset of myopia was at around 11 years of age however, by 2000, the average onset fell to just eight years of age.

With its increasing incidence, understanding myopia and its implications is crucial for parents to safeguard their children's eye health.

To support Myopia Awareness Week 2024 (13th – 19th May), a Brien Holden Vision Institute (BHVI) and Review of Myopia Management initiative, we’re delving into what myopia is, its causes, potential risks and, most importantly, how parents can support their children in preventing and managing this condition.

What is myopia? 

Myopia is a refractive (optical) error of the eye, causing distant objects to appear blurry while close objects remain clear. It occurs when the eyeball grows too long, causing light rays to focus in front of the retina rather than directly on it.  

“Myopia typically develops during childhood and tends to progress until the late teens or early twenties. This is why it is essential for parents and caregivers to ensure their child sees an optometrist for a full eye exam the year they begin school and every year that follows until they are 18 years of age,” said Dom Willson, optometrist and National Professional Services Advisor at Optometry Australia.

How do you “get” myopia? 

While it’s tricky to pinpoint the exact cause of myopia, several factors certainly contribute to its development. 

“Developing myopia largely comes down to an interplay of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle habits. Children with myopic parents are predisposed to this condition, while excessive near work and inadequate outdoor time can exacerbate the risk. Understanding these factors is crucial in managing myopia and promoting optimal eye health in children." 

Researchers from China and Australia have discovered that spending about an extra two hours per day outside reduces the risk of developing myopia by 50 percent

Early signs of myopia in children 

Children with myopia often exhibit a variety of symptoms indicating their difficulty with distance vision.  

"Understanding the various symptoms of childhood myopia is essential for timely intervention and optimal eye health. Recognising these signs further empowers parents to seek appropriate care and support for their child's vision." 

  • Blurred vision is a hallmark sign of myopia, impairing a child’s ability to read the whiteboard in class or identify faces from afar. This is often accompanied by squinting, which is a natural response that aids in focusing light onto the retina  
  • Academic performance may suffer because of myopia, as children struggle to see classroom presentations clearly, impacting their learning and concentration 
  • Compensating for their blurred distance vision, children with myopia may hold objects like books or personal electronic devices unusually close to their face 
  • Myopia can also impair night vision, making it challenging for children to see clearly in low-light environments 
  • Some myopic children may avoid outdoor activities or sports requiring good distance vision, further affecting their quality of life and social interactions 

Potential risks associated with myopia 

Myopia isn't just a matter of blurry vision; it can also pose long-term risks to eye health if left unmanaged. 

"It’s crucial to understand the consequences of progressive myopia. High myopia not only diminishes quality of life by impacting daily activities and education, but also heightens the risk of serious eye conditions such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts.  

Moreover, the economic burden associated with myopia, including the costs of corrective lenses and potential treatments for complications, can weigh heavily on families. Early intervention and management strategies are essential to mitigate these risks and deliver the best management outcomes for patients." 

When it comes to myopia, the best defence is a good offence 

There are several proactive steps parents and caregivers can take to support their child’s eye health and manage myopia effectively. 

“Regular eye exams, beginning the year a child starts school, are imperative for monitoring vision health and catching signs of myopia early on. Encouraging outdoor activities for at least two hours each day and limiting screen time contribute significantly to reducing the risk of myopia progression. By prioritising these strategies, parents can give their children the best opportunity of having good vision for life.” 

Act now, see tomorrow 

When it comes to the overwhelming number of people affected by the condition, myopia is the most significant eye health threat of the 21st century. 

By shining a light on Myopia Awareness Week, from 13th – 19th May 2024, we can all speak up and spread the word of how significantly myopia is affecting children worldwide and what can be done to help prevent the condition. 

Optometry Australia is a proud supporter of Myopia Awareness Week, a joint initiative between the Brien Holden Vision Institute and Review of Myopia Management. 

It is recommended that every Australian, from the time they start primary school, pay their optometrist a visit every year until age 18, then every two years as an adult, and then yearly again after turning 65, for a comprehensive eye examination.    

To book an appointment with your local optometrist today, use our easy search tool here. 

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