According to a Harris Poll survey conducted over the summer, 93% of parents know about the flu. That’s reasonably comforting, though one wonders what’s going on with the other 7%. But it’s mainly of interest as a point of comparison: according to the same poll, 65% of parents are familiar with the term “myopia,” but only 33% know what it means. That’s a bit disturbing, considering the threats myopia holds for children. The immediate effects include poor performance in school. And in the same survey, 56% of eye care professionals agreed that left untreated, myopia increases the risk of irreversible vision loss later in life. The longer-term effects (particularly for children with 5.00 or more diopters of myopia) can include retinal holes and tears, retinal or vitreous detachment, glaucoma, cataracts, and myopic macular degeneration. About two-thirds of eye are professionals also said that they have seen an increase in the prevalence of childhood myopia over the last five to ten years. The statistics bear this out: 40 years ago, 25% of Americans aged 12 to 54 were myopic. Today the number has risen to 42%.
Fortunately, tools are available for myopia management, including atropine eye drops, soft multifocal contacts worn in the daytime, or rigid contacts worn at night (ortho-k). There is also a type of eyeglass lens that can slow the progression of myopia by addressing peripheral hyperopia, which is seen as a stimulus to further eyeball elongation. Unfortunately, lenses of this type are not yet available in the U.S.
There is strong reason to believe that good myopia management can decrease the risk of vision problems later in life. One study found that a one-diopter increase in myopia is associated with a 67% increase in the prevalence of myopic maculopathy. And conversely, reducing myopia progression by 1.00 diopters is associated with a 40% decrease in the prevalence of myopic maculopathy.* Clearly, more parents need to understand what myopia is, and the implications it holds for children’s vision in both the near and long-term. That’s all well and good for the patients who bring their children to your practice, but what about the ones who don’t? There are a number of things you can do to create awareness in your community, like speaking about the problem at PTA meetings, providing vision screenings at health fares and other community events, and, of course, asking patients if they have children who are in need of an eye exam. Spreading awareness of the myopia threat will help families in your community – and it will help you practice, too. *Bullimore, Mark A. and Brennan, Noel A., “Every Diopter of Myopia Control Matters.” :Optometry and Vision Science, June 2019