Alarming Increase in Shortsighted Children Numbers - Myopia Causes and Remedies
The average rate of myopia (short-sightedness) in East Asia used to be about 20-30%, as it currently is in Australia and the UK, but is now 80% and rising.
Researchers from Australia say the dramatic increase in the last few decades is probably associated with students working very hard in school, and not spending enough time outdoors in the natural sunlight.
A research study published in the Lancet journal, found that the rate "high myopia" was of particular concern because up to 20% of students with this more severe form could develop severe eyesight problems and even blindness. The higher occurrence of myopia in Southeast Asian countries such as Japan, China and Korea seems to be linked with high educational pressures and life-style issues.
This eyesight problem is a major health issue that will get worse when the children leave school. It appears that it my be preventable.
Alarming Increase in Short Sighted Children Numbers
Eye Health Remedies
People are classified as myopic if they have blurred vision for objects beyond 2m (6.6ft) away. It is often caused by an elongation of the eyeball that occurs during the development years before puberty (school-age years). Children are normally born long-sighted. As children mature, their eyeballs lengthen, and they become less long-sighted. Generally by the time the children cease growing, their eyesight is perfect. If a child is not born long-sighted enough, the lengthening process will mean that they finish up short-sighted. These changes generally occur around the age of puberty. Genetics obviously affects the starting point. But are numerous things that can influence the progression including, environmental and life-style issues. This can cause myopia during development. There is no cure, but spectacles can correct the vision so that children can focus properly on distant objects.
There are no reported major genes for school-age myopia, although there are several genes associated with the more serious "high myopia". For many years, researchers believed there was a strong genetic component to myopia in East Asia. It was thought that people from Japan, Korea, China and other countries in the region were particularly susceptible to developing myopia. But this latest study, strongly suggests an environmental rather than a genetic explanation. In Singapore, there are large numbers of people from a variety of ethic backgrounds - Malay, Chinese and Indian. However, despite their different genetics, all three ethnic groups have shown a large increase in short-sightedness in recent years. Genetic links are unlikely to be an explanation because the gene pools are unlikely to change in two generations.
Is Close Reading Without a Break Causing Myopia in Children?
Various researchers have argued that many children in South East Asia spend many long hours studying at school and after-school doing their homework. This close-focus work strains the eyes as there is prolonged near-focus when reading and working on computers. There is no relief by focusing on distant objects, which occurs when children play outdoors. Various studies have shown that two or three hours spent outside in the daylight acts to counteract the effect of prolonged near-focus, and helps maintain healthy eyes. The researchers believe that the substance 'dopamine' could play a significant role. Exposure to light is known to increases the concentration of dopamine in the eye and this seems to reduce the risk of myopia developing. Being in natural light, and spending time outdoors looking at distant objects, appear to be key factors. The light doesn't have to be bright, glaring sunshine, but it needs to be natural sunlight.
Cultural life-style patterns also affect things. In many parts of South East Asia, children often have a lunchtime nap. The high-pressure educational demands means that children spend very little time outside in bright sunlight.
Studies by University of Cambridge, found that the risk of myopia fell by 2% for each extra hour spent outdoors per week. Two hours a day would reduce the risk by almost 30%. The research team found that short-sighted children spent about 4 hours less per week outdoors, than those children who either had normal vision or were long-sighted. The researchers claimed that the benefits of time spent outdoors could involve a variety of aspects such as:
- reduced use of near vision
- natural ultraviolet light exposure
- increased use of distance vision
- circulation and other benefits of physical activity.
The researchers were unable to determine which factor was the most important.
Risk and Benefits of Encouraging Children to Spend more time Outdoors
Encouraging children to spend more time outdoors must, of course needs to be weighed against exposure to UV radiation - and the increased risk of skin cancer and cataracts. Hats and sunscreen, and avoiding the middle of the day, would help alleviate these risks. Increasing the time spent playing outdoors and engaged in physical activities has additional benefits in reducing the risks of obesity, diabetes, vitamin D deficiency problems and osteoporosis.
Treatment Options for Myopia (Shortsighted)
There is no cure for myopia, but there are various ways to prevent it progressing and getting worse by practicing good habits for eye care. It is particularly important to detect the early warning signs. The likely symptoms of a potential myopia problem are:
- Child complain of headaches
- Child tends to squint when watching television from a distance
- Frequent rubbing their eyes
- Blinking excessively and regularly.
If any of the signs appear you should consult a doctor or eye specialist.
Regular eye tests during school age years is also a good idea, as your child my have other eyesight problems.
Below are some tips for good eye care habits for your child to help reduce the risks of myopia:
© 2012 Dr. John Anderson
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