The Myopia Epidemic – Is Your Child at Risk?

Myopia – Epidemic or Pandemic

Myopia (shortsightedness) have reached epidemic proportions in some part of the world. In 2019, the American National Eye Institute warns that 39 million Americans will become shortsighted in 2020. In Australia, we have seen similar trend; 36% of our population will become shortsighted by 2020; and this figure was estimated before Covid-19 pandemic which is causing screen time to increase for all of us and our children. This estimate will rise at the end of 2020 without intervention. Myopia is becoming a serious public health concern in Australia, yet statistics showed that 65% of Australian parents are not aware of what it is, and only 12% are aware of health risks that myopia has. In 1983, typical age of myopia onset is 11 years old, however in 2000 average age of onset is 8 years old.

As a Melbourne mom, myself and my husband both have myopia since the age of 10-11 years old. We have to be aware of how to manage our children’s risks and how to manage it.

Risk factors such as genetic and environmental both play part. Modern lifestyles such as low levels of outdoor activity (less than two hours a day for children is considered low), low light exposure, and prolonged near tasks such as reading, Ipads for home schooling and all the online classes that our children have.

Having a discussion with eye health practitioner when our children are having their regular eye examination is crucial to manage this. Everyone’s eyesight and case are different, and there is no single approach that is best for everyone. General rules of thumb:

  • 20-20-20 Rule; every 20 minutes of near task, take 20 seconds break to look at an object 20 feet away (i.e. look out the window)
  • Always have good light during near tasks
  • Better posture at near; try to sit upright
  • Good working distance for near tasks; 30-40 cm
  • Increase level of outdoor activity; despite Covid-19 lockdown ensure that all our children (and ourselves) try to stay healthy and spend more time exercising outdoor when possible in your local areas (and always ensure that you comply with current state restriction with social distancing)

Concerningly, myopia pandemic has reached into younger cohorts. What can we do about it? Choice of treatment strategies such as low dose atropine eye drops combined with better posture at near or Ortho-K lenses and/ or other myopia management are indicated and it is important to have an open discussion with your eye health practitioner for long term management

Sonya Wijaya (B. Optom. Ther. Endorsed/ PG. Spec. Cert. Cont. Lenses and Paedriatics) is a family optometrist based in Doncaster East www.opticalinsight.com.au (Ph 98415798)