Individual Eye care Optometrist Pamela Gonos says the most important thing you can do for your kids to stop them becoming short sighted and having vision issues later in life is to get your kids outdoors — that’s the message from researchers looking into an expected increase in the worldwide rate of short-sightedness.
The World Health Organisation has said short-sightedness, or myopia, already affects about 30 per cent of the world’s population.
That figure is expected to rise to 50 per cent by 2050 and researchers believe it will mainly be down to one thing — all the time children are spending indoors.
In Australia myopia will go from around four million to 22 million by 2050.
Myopia develops when the eye becomes elongated. Light entering the eye focuses in front of the retina, and objects further away become harder to see.
The Sydney Myopia Study, which assessed the vision of 4,000 school children found that We don’t have the same rates of changes as has been noticed in East Asia, but we have pockets of children who are much more likely to be myopic. For instance if we go into academically selective schools, we will find that the rate of prevalence of myopia in those schools is very much higher than it is in the normal school population . This has been showed very well. At first it was thought the jump in non-genetic myopia must be due to children spending more time on computers, smart phones and iPads.
But many researchers now agree that it is not the devices, but a related issue. Increased myopia is most likely caused by children spending less time outside.
“An eye that’s myopic is an eye that’s growing too fast, too quickly and what we are actually thinking may be occurring is that when children spend time outdoors they are getting enough release of retinal dopamine to actually regulate the growth of their eye”; Professor Katheryn Rose said.
“There have now been two trials, one in Taiwan and one in China that have actually shown that they can reduce the incidence of myopia in those populations by increasing time outdoors for children.”
So how much time outside is enough?
“There seems to be a general agreement that, say, somewhere between 10-15 hours a week outdoors is enough to prevent the development of myopia”; Professor Rose said.
“We can be sun safe … but we also need to be outside”
Researchers at the Brien Holden Vision Institute are working on a range of treatments for children who show signs of becoming severely short-sighted.
At Individual Eye Care there are special optical corrections like spectacle lenses that can slow the progression, contact lenses that can slow the progression, and there’s low dose atropine, which is an eye drop that could help as well.