What is myopia?
Myopia means short-sightedness. If your child is myopic (short-sighted), this is usually because their eye is slightly longer than usual (from the front to the back). This means that light focuses in front of their retina at the back of their eye, rather than focusing directly on it.
Who is affected by myopia?
Around a third of people in the UK are myopic. The condition usually starts in childhood (between six and 13 years of age) and tends to get worse until the eye has stopped growing. Myopia can also develop in younger children and adults. People are more likely to become myopic if their parents are also myopic.
What are the symptoms of myopia?
If your child is myopic, they will have problems seeing things in the distance clearly without glasses or contact lenses, but will be able to see things that are close to them. There are varying degrees of myopia.
Myopia is usually easy to correct with glasses or contact lenses (or both). Some adults with myopia have laser surgery to correct it. There are some treatments that may slow down myopia during childhood. This is called myopia management.
How myopic may my child become?
The exact causes of myopia are not fully understood, so it is difficult to predict accurately how myopic any child may become in the future. Researchers know that the following things may make it more likely that a child will eventually become myopic:
- having one or both parents with myopia
- spending limited time outdoors
Becoming myopic before nine years old may increase the risk of developing a high level of myopia. If a person has a high level of myopia, they will be at a slightly greater risk of losing their sight later in life due to conditions such as retinal detachments, glaucoma and myopic retinal degeneration.
Can I reduce how myopic my child will become?
Trying to slow down how quickly myopia gets worse is called myopia management. A number of treatments have been developed for this, including specially designed contact lenses or glasses, and atropine eye drops, but not all are commonly available in the UK. Current evidence suggests that using special contact lenses or atropine eye drops may reduce the progression of myopia by 40% to 60% after one to two years (some manufacturers’ studies suggest a reduction in its progression over three years). Using specially designed glasses can also help to slow down the progression of myopia.
If myopia management is successful, this may mean your child grows up with a lower level of myopia than they would have had without treatment. This means that they may not depend on their glasses as much as they would otherwise have had to, and the prescription for their glasses will be lower, so their glasses will be thinner and lighter. Being less myopic may mean your child is slightly less likely to be affected by conditions such as retinal detachment and myopic retinal degeneration.
Although a lot of research has already taken place, it will take many more years before we fully understand how successful myopia management can be. Much of the current research is based on children from east-Asian ethnic backgrounds, and we need more research to understand how myopia management will affect children with European ethnic backgrounds.
Also, there is almost no evidence about the long-term results of myopia management, including whether myopia will start to get worse again after the treatment has stopped.
Myopia management may reduce the risk of your child developing myopia-related sight loss in adulthood, but it will not take away this risk altogether. The evidence does not currently tell us whether the benefits of myopia management outweigh the disadvantages of treatment. Despite this, children with myopia who are being considered for traditional contact lenses should also be considered for myopia-management contact lenses.