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Myopia (Nearsightedness) in Children

Myopia (Nearsightedness) Myopia (Nearsightedness)

​By:  Sylvia H. Yoo, MD, FAAO, FAAP

Myopia, or nearsighted- ness, ​​is a common vision problem that often begins between the ages of 6 and 14. It affects up to 5% of preschoolers, about 9% of school aged children, and nearly 30% of adolescents.

Children are more likely to ​develop myopia if their parents are nearsighted. However, myopia is on the rise overall, especially in kids. No one is exactly sure why, but experts believe it could be related to more time doing closeup tasks indoors like using computers​ and playing video games.

Eye development & vision

Myopia happens when your child's eyeball is too long from front to back. It can also develop when the cornea​, the clear window at the front of the eye, is curved too steeply. When light enters your child's eye, the rays fall just short of the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. This makes distant objects blurry and close objects clear.

In hyperopia, or farsightedness, distant objects are clearer than near objects. It takes more work to focus on everything, but especially on close-up objects. Children's eyes haven't totally developed yet, so some farsightedness is normal in childhood. Most kids don't experience blurry vision though because their eyes automatically focus. As they grow, children usually become less farsighted and may become nearsighted instead.

Myopia generally gets worse through adolescence, then starts to stabilize in the early twenties.

Myopia Symptoms

Symptoms of myopia include:

  • Complaints of blurry vision (like not being able to see the board in school)

  • Squinting to try to see better

  • Frequent eye rubbing

  • Frequent headaches

​​​​Myopia and the CO​​VID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to many schools ​becoming virtual. That means kids are spending more time on screens and close-up work. Social distancing measures and staying home also equals less time that many children spend outside. These factors have doctors concerned about the potential for a big increase in myopia in children. To help lower the risk of myopia, especially during the pandemic, encourage your child to take frequent breaks ​from close-up work, spend daily time outside when possible, and limit recreational screen time​.

Diagnosing myopia

If your child doesn't pass a vision screening​ at your pediatrician's office or at school, they may have myopia. To get a diagnosis, your child will need to see an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.

Ophthalmologists have a degree in medicine (MD or DO). They do eye exams and prescribe glasses and contact lenses. They also diagnose and treat eye diseases and perform eye surgery.

Optometrists have a degree in optometry (OD). They give eye exams, prescribe glasses and contact lenses, and screen for and treat certain vision problems.

An optician is trained to make sure glasses that are prescribed by an ophthalmologist or optometrist fit correctly.

Treatment of myopia in childhood

Myopia cannot be reversed or cured, but it can be treated. The goals of treatment are to improve your child's vision and prevent it from getting worse. This is important for protecting their eye health in the future, even if they still need glasses or contact lenses.

Glasses

Glasses for myopia can be used all the time or just when they're needed so your child can see far away. It's important to choose frames that fit well and that work for your child's age and activities. For example, if you have a young child, it may help to buy glasses with a strap so they stay on more easily. Or if your child plays sports, getting sports goggles will keep their regular glasses from getting broken. An optician can help you figure out what your child may need.

Contact lenses

Contact lenses are an option if your child prefers them. They can be helpful for certain activities too, especially sports. While there's no age limit for contacts, your child should be able to tolerate eye drops well and practice good hygiene. Contacts need to be cared for on a daily basis to prevent eye infections.

It's important to always have glasses for backup, even if your child wears contact lenses most of the time. If your child has eye pain or redness while wearing contact lenses, contact your ophthalmologist or optometrist right away.

Treatments to prevent myopia from getting worse

Researchers are studying ways to prevent myopia from worsening in children. These potential treatments include:

Low-dose atropine eye drops

A low dose of the same type of eye drops that are used to dilate the pup​​ils during an eye exam may help slow down myopia in children between 5 and 18 years old.

Specialized contact lenses

In some children, wearing a specialized multifocal contact lens that blurs their side vision may help slow their eye growth and limit myopia.

Another type of contact lens treatment called orthokeratology, or Ortho-K, is worn overnight to flatten the cornea. During the day, the reshaped cornea helps focus light properly on your child's retina to improve blurry vision. The safety of this treatment is a concern because wearing contact lenses while sleeping increases your child's risks of eye irritation and infection. It also increases the risk for more severe vision problems.

More time outside

By balancing screen time with outdoor time when possible, you may help limit your child's ​myopia and protect their vision as they grow.

Remember

If you think your child is experiencing symptoms of myopia, talk with your pediatrician. Th​​ey can give your child a vision screening and help you figure out next steps, if necessary.​​

More Information

About Dr. Yoo​

Sylvia H. Yoo, MD, FAAO, FAAP,  is a member of the Executive Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Ophthalmology​. She is also an assistant professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts and practices pediatric ophthalmology at the New England Eye Center at Tufts Children's Hospital. 

Last Updated
2/2/2021
Source
American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Ophthalmology (Copyright © 2021)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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