With Childhood Myopia Rates on the Rise, the American Optometric Association Highlights the Importance of Early Intervention through Annual Eye Exams

March 1, 2019

Yakesha Cooper, 703.837.1349

ST. LOUIS - More than 40 percent of Americans are myopic and that number is increasing at an alarming rate, especially among school-aged children. In fact, one in four parents have a child with myopia (also known as "nearsightedness"), and about three quarters of children with myopia were diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 12, according to new data from the American Optometric Association's (AOA) 2018 American Eye-Q survey.

"Vision plays an important role in many aspects of daily life. However, the future will be blurry at best for millions of children unless we start tackling this growing issue," says AOA President, Samuel D. Pierce, O.D. "Since eye and vision problems can become worse over time, early diagnosis and treatment through comprehensive, yearly eye exams are essential to optimize children's eye and vision health and prevent future vision loss."

Myopia has become one of the most increasingly prevalent vision issues in the U.S. in recent years-up 25 percent from just 40 years ago—and health experts expect that trend to continue in the coming decades. Yet, the Eye-Q survey also revealed more than half of Americans (58 percent) are unaware that myopia is becoming more common, and nearly one in three don't know of any methods to help control the condition. With the prevalence of this potentially vision-threatening condition on the rise, the AOA is taking action to educate consumers around myopia and asking parents to schedule an in-person, comprehensive eye exam for their children in recognition of Save Your Vision Month.

Myopia develops if the eyeball is too long or the cornea (the clear front cover of the eye) is too curved. As a result, the light entering the eye isn't focused correctly, and distant objects appear blurred. Generally, myopia first occurs in school-age children and progresses until about age 20. Common signs of vision problems among children reported by parents before receiving a myopia diagnosis include squinting while reading or watching TV, frequent headaches, holding objects close to the face, poor school performance or shortened attention span.

While being nearsighted may not sound serious, if the condition is not managed properly it can lead to major issues throughout their school years into adulthood. If left untreated over time, it can put the eyes at risk for a number of vision-threatening conditions including retinal detachment, early cataract development, macular degeneration, glaucoma and even blindness. Although the specific myogenic spark has yet to be identified, there is significant evidence that the tendency to develop the condition can be caused by genetics, environmental factors or other health problems. Additionally, individuals who spend considerable time engaged in "near" activities, like reading, working at a computer or using hand-held electronics, may be more likely to develop myopia.

"As more children spend extended periods of time on computers and other handheld devices, doctors of optometry are seeing more patients who are experiencing digital eye strain," says Dr. Pierce. "Parents should know that by taking simple steps, such as limiting time on digital devices, getting more sunlight outdoors, as well as scheduling an in-person, comprehensive eye exam, they can help reduce the risk of developing myopia."

In addition to not always recognizing the signs of myopia, parents often mistakenly think vision screenings at school or the pediatrician's office are adequate enough to diagnose vision problems. Routine school screenings provide less than 4 percent of the eye tests needed to help children see and they miss up to 75 percent of children with vision problems. The best way to detect myopia and any other vision issues is through regular in-person, comprehensive eye exams. In fact, doctors of optometry diagnosed more than half of myopia cases in children in 2017. They can determine the treatment that best meets a child's visual and lifestyle needs, which could include eyeglasses, contact lenses or corneal refractive therapy (CRT).

According to AOA's evidence-based clinical pediatric guideline, parents should begin eye care early, as early intervention is key to control its progression and combat the growing number of children struggling while living life out focus every day. Annual comprehensive eye exams for children, beginning as early as six months old, can make the difference in whether a child achieves his or her full potential inside and outside the classroom. The AOA recommends parents bring infants six to 12 months of age to their local doctor of optometry for an assessment and then again for an exam at age three and age five before entering kindergarten. Children and adults should receive yearly comprehensive eye exams, unless otherwise advised by their doctor of optometry.

To learn more about eye and vision health, or to find a nearby doctor of optometry, please visit aoa.org