Adolescence is the time of life when millions of boys and girls are found to be nearsighted. "Myopia is the most common eye problem of the teen years," says Dr. Harold P. Koller, a pediatric ophthalmologist from Meadowbrook, Pennsylvania, and clinical professor of ophthalmology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“In kids who are genetically programmed to be nearsighted,” he explains, “the eyeball grows too long from front to back, usually during the growth spurt.” Consequently, the rays of light that make up optical images converge just short of the retina, the “movie screen” at the back of the eye. A myopic person can see clearly up close, but distant objects appear blurry.
Farsighted youngsters have the opposite problem: normal vision for things that are far away, difficulties seeing what may be right in front of them. That’s because their eyeballs are abnormally short, causing the image to focus behind the retina. It is not unusual for children to develop hyperopia before age five or six. As they grow, the eyeball “catches up” with the rest of the body. If they’d required corrective lenses for farsightedness, they may be able to set them aside for several years—perhaps permanently. A small amount of farsightedness is considered normal in childhood. Myopia typically becomes more severe throughout adolescence, then starts to stabilize when a young person reaches her twenties.
Symptoms That Suggest Myopia May Include:
- Recurrent headaches
- Incessant eye-rubbing
- Squinting in an attempt to help vision
- Unexplained drop in school performance
How Myopia is Diagnosed
Myopia is diagnosed with an eye examination and vision screening conducted by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist. An ophthalmologist holds a degree in medicine (M.D. or D.O.) and has received an additional three to five years training in the diagnosis and treatment of all eye disorders. That includes performing surgery. An optometrist has a degree in optometry (O.D.) and is qualified to prescribe and fit glasses and contacts, and to screen for, and treat, certain vision problems. An optician is trained to fit glasses and contacts, although the prescription must have been written by either an M.D., D.O. or O.D.
How Myopia is Treated
Eyeglass frames, once merely functional, are now stylish enough to serve as fashion statements. Nevertheless, some teens are selfconscious about wearing glasses—and so they don’t, ditching them at every opportunity. For them, contact lenses might be the preferable selection. But only on three conditions, advises Dr. Koller:
“Number one: The young person has no medical condition that would preclude him from wearing contacts, such as dry eye, severe allergies and frequent eye infections. Numbers two and three: The young person has to be sufficiently mature and motivated to handle and care for the lenses properly.”
Soft contact lenses are relatively problem free, but they do need to be cleaned and disinfected each time they’re taken out. Failure to practice adequate hygiene can lead to nasty eye infections. Here are some other precautions for teens to remember:
Never put in contact lenses when the eyes are red and inflamed.
After inserting the lenses in the eyes, rinse the plastic case with warm water and allow it to dry.
Don’t forget to take the lenses out at night.
Keep a backup pair of contacts and a backup pair of eyeglasses, for emergencies.