Myopia, more commonly known as nearsightedness, is a form of refractive error that results in objects that are far away appearing blurry and out-of-focus. Myopia occurs when the optical system of the eye causes light that enters the eye to focus in front of the retina. This unfocused light results in a blurry image sent to our brain. Myopia is a very common optical problem among Americans of many ages. While nearsightedness can be corrected with options such as glasses and contact lenses, it can be accompanied by other problems and ocular health risks. Additionally, recent studies have suggested that the national prevalence of myopia is rising at an alarming rate, and the average amount of nearsightedness seen in myopic individuals is becoming more and more severe. It leaves many people wondering: what causes myopia? Can I reduce the risk of me or my children developing myopia? Continue reading to learn the answers to these questions and more.
Genetics and Nearsightedness
It is well-accepted that genetics and family history play a role in the development of myopia. Children with two parents who have myopia are much more likely of becoming nearsighted than children whose parents are not myopic. Furthermore, the more nearsighted the parents are, the more likely the child is to have significant myopia. Different races, particularly Asian and Hispanic ethnic groups, have a higher rate of myopia development than non-Asian and non-Hispanic individuals. While genetics are a risk factor that we cannot control, it is beneficial to be aware of the associated risks and trends. If you are a parent who has a significant amount of nearsightedness yourself, your children should be evaluated for refractive error to determine if they need glasses or contact lenses as well.
Environmental Factors for Myopia Development
Genetics are not the only factor that plays a role in the development of myopia. Environmental factors may also effect the amount and rate of myopia progression. Studies have shown that children to spend less time outside are more likely to develop nearsightedness, likely due to the lack of distance stimulus to the optical system. Additionally, those children with high near demands, like extensive school work or intense study demands, may also be at a higher risk for quicker or more severe myopic development. These potential risk factors have gained a lot of attention in recent public health discussions regarding the risks associated with myopia.
Myopia Control for Nearsighted
You may be wondering: why is this important? Myopia can come with increased risks to ocular health, which means the development of nearsightedness is a public health concern. Those with significant amounts of myopia are more likely for retinal health problems such as retinal thinning, tears, or detachments. While we may have limited control over risk factors like genetics or certain environmental aspects, there is a process known as myopia control that has been shown to slow the development of myopia. Myopia control can be done for children who have moderate amounts of myopia, and usually involves wearing a rigid contact lens overnight in order to reshape the front surface of the eye and eliminate the need for glasses or contact lenses throughout the day, and can provide long-term benefits for ocular health. If you or your child is interested in learning more about this method of addressing nearsightedness, ask your optometrist for more information.