Is there anything new in the field of ophthalmology that can concern every child?
Yes, since the 1970s there has been seen a significant increase in myopia among children aged 12-18.
This means a threefold increase to about 30 per cent in the USA and Europe, whereas there is a fivefold increase in South East Asia with up to 95 per cent in Singapore.
What is the cause for this development?
It used to be believed that only genetic factors are responsible for the occurrence of myopia. It is true that children of parents with myopia are especially prone to develop it as well, i.e. chances they become shortsighted are three times higher than with other children, however, nowadays much more importance than before is ascribed to the environment and behavior in early childhood. Thanks to this shift of focus, a significant connection between the years at school and in professional training and the development of myopia could be found. This in turn is tried to be explained by nearwork as well as the increasing amount of work on the PC and the usage of mobile phones, with a simultaneous lack of exposure to daylight. Myopia has been found to have especially increased among the urban populations in South East Asia as compared to rural populations there.
It remains to be examined to what extent these data also apply to the European population of mostly Caucasians. However, experts agree that stays in the daylight for at least 2 hours per day (this also applies to European children from a very young age), taking a break from reading and looking in the distance after every 30 minutes, and a reading distance of at least 30 cm can prevent myopia. With older children this protective effect doesn’t seem to be given anymore.
Are there medicines or other measures, such as special glasses, that could help prevent myopia?
In Asia, they’re trying to prophylactically keep the spread of myopia at bay by the use of eye-drops containing atropine in low concentrations. This method, however, has significant side-effects, such as the risk of dazzling and headaches as well as long-term effects not known yet. Research remains to be done on how the treatment approaches can also be applied with Europeans. A study examining this possibility is in progress in Europe. Till this study is finished, it’s urgently recommended to envisage medical remedies only under strict ophthalmologic supervision and with the advice of eye doctors specialized in pediatrics - this also includes wearing special contact lenses or glasses.
That means for the time being preventive measures, such as exposing little children to daylight and supervising nearsight, are most important. What do I need to bear in mind?
Small children, who are more sensitive to the exposure of UVA and UVB radiation, need to be protected. In sunlight, this needs to be done by means of corresponding sunglasses, head coverings with visors etc. However, stays in the bright daylight don’t necessarily mean increased UVA and UVB radiation. That, of course, also depends on the respective climatic and geographic conditions.
Sources and further information: (DOG (Deutsche Ophthalmologische Gesellschaft) [German Ophthalmological Society] July 2017), WSPOS (World Society Pediatric Ophthalmology) Consensus Statement November 2016)