Myopia — usually referred to as nearsightedness — is the most common refractive error among Americans. This condition continues to increase in numbers. Although nearsightedness that begins in childhood often stabilizes by the time an individual reaches early adulthood, that isn't always the case.
Therefore, you should understand the development and progression of myopia so that you can recognize if your child shows signs of the disorder. That way, you'll be better prepared to investigate the options available in vision correction.
Signs and Symptoms
Difficulty seeing distant objects clearly is an obvious symptom of myopia. Symptoms other than blurry vision when looking at images farther away include eye strain, headaches, persistent squinting, and eye fatigue. A child with myopia may also blink excessively, suffer sore eyes, or frequently rub his or her eyes.
Combination of Causes
One cause of myopia is when the eyeball is too long from front to back. Consequently, light rays focus in front of the retina instead of directly on its surface. This makes images look blurry. When the cornea isn't smoothly curved, incoming light rays aren't bent properly, so you can't focus images clearly.
Another cause of nearsightedness is when the cornea or lens of the eye is too curved for the length of the eyeball. Frequently, however, the cause of the condition is a combination of these or other factors.
Common Risk Factors
Your child is at higher risk of developing myopia if you or the other parent are nearsighted. Along with genetics, eye fatigue due to environmental factors, such as extended use of computers and other digital devices, may contribute to nearsightedness.
Infants born prematurely can get retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which increases the risk for developing eye problems such as nearsightedness, lazy eyes, or crossed eyes. In adults, poor glucose control is a risk factor for myopia.
Degenerative, or malignant, myopia is when the progression of nearsightedness is severe. Although this degenerative eye disorder is rare — affecting about 2 percent of the population — its quick rather than gradual progression can lead to vision loss. In fact, degenerative myopia is a leading cause of legal blindness among Americans.
Degenerative myopia also increases your child's risk of retinal detachment, cataracts, and abnormal blood vessel growth that causes bleeding in the eye. Certain oral medications may slow the elongation of the eye in children with degenerative myopia. However, doctors generally use a combination of drug and laser therapies to treat complications of this more progressive form of myopia.
While there is no cure for myopia, treatment varies depending on the severity of your child's condition.
In some cases, your child may only need prescription lenses to correct the refractive error. High-index lenses, which are thinner and lighter in design, are a practical choice for children.
Refractive surgery is another treatment option that can eliminate the need to wear eyeglasses or contact lenses by improving the eye's focusing power. LASIK surgery involves the removal of some amount of corneal tissue to reshape the cornea.
PRK is another laser vision correction procedure where the eye surgeon removes a layer of tissue from the eye, flattening the cornea. This procedure allows rays of light to focus on the retina.
If your child has mild to moderate myopia, and he or she is too young for refractive surgery, orthokeratology is a nonsurgical procedure that requires wearing special, rigid gas-permeable contact lenses at night. The lenses flatten the cornea while your child sleeps.
After your child removes the lenses each morning, the cornea holds the new shape. This allows your child to see clearly during the day without corrective lenses. However, this treatment gives only temporary results. Once the cornea goes back to its original shape, myopia returns.
If you suspect that your child may be nearsighted or suffers from another eye problem, contact the eye care specialists at Sugarloaf EyeCare to set up a vision screening so that the problem doesn't go undiagnosed.