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Myopia control: Can we stop the progression of nearsightedness?

By Dr. Roxanna Potter FLT News Columnist – It’s a common story: A child has trouble reading the board in elementary school, gets glasses, and then the prescription proceeds to get worse every year until they reach graduation. This has been the fate of nearsighted people worldwide. The scientific term for nearsightedness is myopia, and a great deal of research is currently being done to find a way to stop this progression.

Myopia has reached almost epidemic proportions. It has increased from 25 percent up to 40 percent of Americans in the last 30 years, and is even more prevalent in other countries, particularly in East Asia, where it reaches over 80 to 90 percent. Being nearsighted/myopic doesn’t just mean that you are stuck with glasses, however. It also increases a patient’s risk of retinal problems (like retinal tears and detachments) and has been linked to cataracts and glaucoma. Myopic retinal degeneration is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide, and in many countries around the world, access to eye exams and glasses to correct even uncomplicated myopia is limited. Without available or affordable glasses, myopic people are often unable to pursue education, find work or provide any type of meaningful support for themselves or their families.

Current research centers on stopping the progressive elongation of the eyeball that leads to increased levels of myopia. For unknown reasons, using a mix of genetic tendencies and environmental cues of light and focus, the eye gets stuck in an uncontrolled progression of growth. It keeps growing and growing, and becoming more and more nearsighted. We now understand some of the potential causes of this, and even have some methods of slowing the progression. Current techniques used in my office to slow myopia include the fitting of a few types of specialty contact lenses which are designed to both correct a child’s vision and also help the entire retina focus properly to avoid overgrowth signaling. I also recommend two hours each day of outdoor activity, which has been shown to help reduce myopic progression as well.

Research suggests that using myopia control contact lenses can slow myopic progression by anywhere from 30 to 50 percent or more. If you have a child with progressive myopia, don’t just keep updating their glasses. Find an optometrist that is familiar with myopia control, and start being proactive about stopping the progression.