Childhood myopia is common in Singapore but preventive action can avoid or slow down the problem
Singapore has one of the highest incidences of myopia in the world. It affects one in four seven-year-olds, a third of nineyear- olds and half of 12-year-old children. This is a cause for concern as the earlier a child develops myopia, the higher the likelihood is of developing severe myopia later in life. It is important to be aware that severe myopia may lead to complications, which can result in blindness.
“Childhood myopia is a progressive form of short-sightedness that starts during the child’s growing years and worsens throughout childhood. And it usually stabilises in the midteens,” says paediatric ophthalmologist senior consultant Dr Quah Boon Long, head of Paediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus Service at the Singapore National Eye Centre and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
In most cases, the cause of myopia is a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Family history is a high risk factor for developing myopia. Children whose parents are myopic are more likely to become short-sighted. Studies have shown that Chinese people have the “myopic gene” and hence are more predisposed to myopia.
Environmental factors for childhood myopia include:
- Excessive close work,
- Lack of outdoor activity, and
- Poor lighting
How do you tell if your child is short-sighted especially if he is still not able to read?
Watch out for these signs:
- Frequent rubbing of eyes,
- Excessive blinking,
- Tilting of head or squinting when reading or watching TV to see better, and
- Headaches from eye strain
For this reason, Dr Quah says that children aged four years old and above should have their eyes checked every year.
What can parents do about childhood myopia?
Myopia cannot be reversed or cured. But there are some steps which parents can take to prevent or slow down the progression of myopia. They should teach children to:
- Ensure good lighting when doing near work.
- Take vision breaks of 5 to 10 minutes after every 30 to 45 minutes of near work,
- Hold reading/writing material minimum 30cm away from eyes,
- Sit about 50 cm from computer,
- Don’t read lying down,
- Sleep early,
- Daily outdoor activities, and
- Avoid reading materials with small font/faded print as more effort is needed to focus on the words resulting in eyestrain.
“Practising good eye habits is one of the best ways to prevent myopia in your child. Parents should teach their children to take frequent breaks to rest the eyes when doing near work such as reading, watching TV or using the computer,” advises Dr Quah. The Singapore Eye Research Institute has successfully conducted clinical trials to investigate the use of atropine eye drops to slow down the progression of myopia. According to Dr Quah, myopia cannot be prevented or improved by taking dietary supplements such as Vitamin A. Eye exercises, acupressure and vision training are also not helpful.
When kids wear spectacles
There was a time when children who wore spectacles were teased by their peers calling them “four eyes!” But, wearing spectacles is the oldest and most popular way of correcting myopia in children. Many parents are concerned when spectacles are prescribed for their young children. They have the notion that wearing spectacles will only worsen their children’s eye sight especially is the power is too high. Often, they would reduce the power of the spectacles resulting in under correction. Children with low myopia may not need to wear their spectacles when reading or doing their homework. But they will need them for “distance” activities like when they are playing outdoors. However, those with moderate to severe myopia need to wear their spectacles for both “near” and “distance” activities. Not using them for “near” work will cause eye strain and fatigue.
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