Myopia is a condition where the eye is slightly too long. It is often known as short sight. It means that the person who has the condition can not see clearly in the distance but can usually see close up. It can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses.
Sixty years ago 10-20% of the Chinese population was short sighted. Today about 90% of teenagers and young adults are. In Seoul (South Korea) a whopping 96.5% of 19 year old men are now short sighted.
This is happening in other parts of the world too. In the United States and Europe half of young people are affected. Some estimates suggest that 2.5 billion people could be myopic by the end of the decade- that’s one third of the population.
You may be wondering why this matters. After all, wearing glasses is no longer a problem for most people- in fact it is highly fashionable. And there’s always the option of contact lenses.
This is true, however, the more short sighted you are, the longer your eye is and the more the inner parts of the eye are stretched and thinned. This increases the risk of conditions such as retinal detachment, cataracts and glaucoma, which can eventually lead to loss of sight. So it would be useful to know if there was anything we could do to prevent myopia, or slow it down.
It has been accepted for a long time that children with short sighted parents are more likely to be short sighted themselves. But genes are not the whole story. Recent research suggests that time spent outdoors is the biggest factor in developing short sight.
A study in Australia found that children who spent less time outside were more at risk of becoming myopic. I wasn’t to do with exercise – the kids could have been simply picnicking on the beach or even reading, it was the exposure to light that seemed to protect them from becoming short sighted. It also did not seem to matter if the children were doing lots of reading or using screens when they were indoors as long as they were outdoors as well. However, it is likely that too much close work close work may have some effect.
So what can we do? Firstly, ensure that you and your child have regular eye tests, so vision can be corrected if short sight does develop. New spectacle lenses and special contact lenses to help slow down myopia are under development but not available in the UK yet.
Secondly try and ensure that your child plays outside as much as possible- two to three hours seems to be the ideal – and make sure they take breaks when reading or using computers.
Just like your granny told you- get outside and enjoy the fresh air- the exercise will do you good, improve your mood and help your eyesight- looks like she was right all along
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