Myopia Can Be Controlled
Myopia, also called nearsightedness or shortsightedness, is when things up close are clear but objects that are far away are blurred. It is caused by the eye being slightly too long. However, blurry vision isn’t the problem that can be caused by the lengthening of the eye. It also results in a significantly higher risk for conditions like retinal detachment and glaucoma. It’s for this reason that doctors and scientists are beginning to classify myopia as a disease.
To make things worse, the incidence of myopia is increasing. A study published in 2009 reported that over the past 30 years the number of people in the US who are nearsighted has increase from 25% to 42%. The cause of refractive error is not known, but it is likely due to both environmental (e.g. staring at computers and cell phones) and genetic factors (parents and siblings who are also nearsighted).
The good news is that vision specialists who specialize in myopia control and orthokeratology, like Dr. Joseph Hegyi, are able to identify the patients at highest risk and recommend treatments that will slow and stabilize myopic changes. There are three primary treatments for myopia control:
1. Orthokeratology (ortho-K). This is sometimes called Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT) and involves using a carefully designed contact lens to act as a mold and is worn at only night while you sleep. Ortho-k treatment has two wonderful benefits. The first is that when the lenses are removed, you are able to see clearly throughout the day without the use of glasses or contact lenses. The other benefit is that ortho-k slows myopic prescription changes.
2. Multifocal contact lenses. The unique multifocal design within the contact lens can significantly slow changes in nearsightedness. We used to think that allowing the eye to relax while reading up close would slow myopic changes. However, we have discovered that is not the mechanism, which is why bifocal eyeglasses or wearing a smaller (or no) correction are not effective.
3. Medications. Though there are similar medications in its class, atropine eye drops are most effective in controlling myopia. This is a great option for children who are identified with myopia at a young age and are not old enough to wear orthokeratology lenses.
You might be wondering which treatment is the best. The answer is that it depends on several factors such as age of onset, family history, current age and activities such as sports. Many times a combinations of treatments is the most effective while being well accepted by the patient.
When it comes to myopia control, early intervention is important. Myopia that starts at younger ages (like 7-9 years old) is more like to progress rapidly and to higher levels over cases that onset at older ages (12 years and up). Family history also has significant risk when one or both parents are nearsighted or there are nearsighted siblings.
One final note about myopia progression. It is not unusual to hear from a parent who thinks that under-correction (not using the full Rx in glasses or contacts) will keep their child or themselves from getting more nearsighted. Studies show that is not the case. In fact, not wearing the full prescription can actually stimulate myopic progression, not to mention the obvious fact that the patient will see blurrier with the weak prescription. If you are not going to seek myopia control, always use glasses or contact lenses with your full (up-to-date) prescription!