For most Singaporean children, spectacles are not just a fashion accessory. They are necessary to correct poor vision due to myopia. In fact, the prevalence of childhood myopia in Singapore is one of the highest globally, with around 65% of our children being myopic by Primary 6. This figure is staggering and highlights the importance of promoting healthy eye habits to prevent childhood myopia progression. Let us explore the various aspects of childhood myopia, including its causes, symptoms, and effective management strategies.
What is myopia?
Myopia, also known as short-sightedness, is a refractive eye error in which you can view nearby items clearly while distant objects appear blurry. It occurs when light is refracted incorrectly within the eye due to the eyeball being longer than normal. As a result, the image is focused in front of the retina instead of on the retina.
Typically, a child’s eyes are meant to grow steadily until their teenage years before stabilising. However, those with myopia will experience rapid and continual deterioration of vision and continued eye growth through their teen years. This issue can even continue until early adulthood. This ongoing development and progression of myopia is irreversible.
What causes myopia?
Globally, myopia rates are increasing. That is a concern, as myopia increases the risks of myopia-related eye issues, like early onset cataracts and glaucoma, which can cause blindness. Therefore, parents must be aware of the common causes of childhood myopia to help minimise the threat it poses to their children.
Cause #1: Genetics
Genetics can affect the development of myopia. A child born to one or both parents with myopia is more susceptible. If your child falls into this category, please consult an eye specialist as soon as possible to manage their risks.
Cause #2: Too much near-sighted work
Activities requiring prolonged concentration on close objects, such as reading or using smartphones, can contribute to myopia development, especially in children. That is why eye specialists often recommend we take a break after 30 to 40 minutes of near work to look at distant objects to help address eye fatigue and dry eyes.
Cause #3: Insufficient time spent outdoors
Studies demonstrate that greater exposure to natural light is crucial in preventing or, at the very least, slowing down myopia progression. Therefore, you should encourage your child to pursue outdoor activities as often as possible to expose them to more ambient light.
What are the symptoms of myopia?
Children with myopia often exhibit the following symptoms:
- A constant need to sit close to the television or in front of the classroom to see clearly;
- Abnormal head posture;
- Being unaware of distant objects;
- Excessive blinking;
- Eye fatigue;
- Frequent rubbing of eyes;
- Persistent squinting.
If your child demonstrates any of the symptoms above, please schedule an appointment with our eye clinic to consult our eye specialist, Dr Eugene Tay, today.
How to manage myopia in children?
Unfortunately, childhood myopia cannot be reversed. However, you can take steps to slow or prevent it in your child. We recommend having your child’s eyes tested regularly, especially if there is a family history of myopia or other eye conditions. This way, the eye doctor can monitor their progress, detect problems early, and recommend the appropriate treatment. Treatments could include applying medication, wearing prescription glasses, or maintaining good eye habits.
Option #1: Atropine eye drops
Studies show that while atropine does not prevent the development of myopia, it can slow its progression. Currently, atropine is only used in eye drops at concentration levels of 0.01% to minimise side effects such as photophobia. The eye drops are used once daily, at night time, over a period of two years. Once the condition has stabilised, the eye doctor will recommend stopping the prescription. However, regular follow-ups remain essential to monitor for rebound.
Option #2: Prescription glasses
Prescription glasses are the most common myopia control treatment method recommended by eye specialists. A prescription with the appropriate lenses can refocus light rays entering the eye so that the image focuses correctly on the retina, allowing the child to see clearly at various distances. However, the child must wear prescription glasses regularly to prevent increased strain on their eyes, which can worsen their condition.
Option #3: Practise good eye habits
Good eye habits, such as encouraging outdoor time in ambient lighting, reducing screen time, increasing indoor lighting, and taking frequent eye breaks from intensive near work, can help counter myopia development and prevent your child’s eyesight from deteriorating.
Can LASIK correct childhood myopia?
In recent years, LASIK surgery has become a popular procedure for those wishing to correct their vision. So, can LASIK help correct childhood myopia? The answer is no, as LASIK surgery is not recommended for children typically since their eyes are still growing during childhood. Besides, LASIK only reshapes the cornea to allow light to focus on the retina. As such, it is not a miracle cure-all for every eye problem.
If your child wishes to correct their vision problem, they can undergo LASIK surgery after their myopia has stabilised (late teens/early 20s). While they will no longer need prescription glasses, please note that LASIK does not decrease the risk of eye conditions associated with myopia, such as cataracts, detached retinas, and glaucoma. Moreover, there is a likelihood that myopia may return after treatment if they have had high myopia previously. You and your child should be aware of this before undergoing LASIK treatment.
Learn More: Is LASIK Surgery Right For You?
The good news is that you can still safeguard your child’s vision with proper myopia control even if they are diagnosed with myopia. Staying informed and proactive can help ensure your child’s visual health is well taken care of, setting the stage for a bright and clear future. Consult our eye specialist today to see which options are most suitable for your child.