Myopia increases among the youngest: experts suspect that a “blurred generation” is closer

The number of people with difficulties seeing at a distance, who are diagnosed with myopia, is increasing: more children, at increasingly younger ages, need glasses to see distant objects. And by 2050, half of the world’s population is expected to be nearsighted, a trend that is causing concern.

In the 1970s, 25% of Americans had myopia, but Just three decades later, that prevalence increased to 42%, according to Stanford Medicine. While several countries have thoroughly studied the prevalence of myopia in their populations, experts agree that data on severe myopia is still lacking in the United States, where underrepresented populations, such as Latino, Black and Asian communities, are at higher risk of face complications due to reduced access to optometric and ophthalmic care, according to a study in the National Library of Medicine.

“Racial groups with limited access to preventive eye care are at risk of allowing myopia to progress unnecessarily,” highlights the study titled High prevalence of myopia among racial groups in the United Stateswhich was published in April 2023.

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One of the research cited points out that “for children enrolled in Medicaid in urban counties, black or Hispanic children were less likely to receive care from an optometrist or ophthalmologist…regardless of age, sex, family income or state.” of medical insurance.” “More complete prevalence data will help identify opportunities for community interventions to prevent the debilitating and blinding complications of high myopia,” the text adds.

While genetics play a role, with children with one or both nearsighted parents being more likely to inherit this vision condition, currently Researchers are studying the circumstantial reasons behind an increase in its incidence.

Concern about the increasing prevalence of myopia goes beyond the need for glasses or laser treatments.Mayur Kakade/Getty Images

Experts estimate that half of the world’s population could be nearsighted by 2050. Those with it are more likely to develop sight-threatening complications in the future, such as cataracts, glaucoma and degeneration of the macula, the center of the retina.

Furthermore, according to the University of Navarra, in Spain, it is expected that in the coming years 60% or 70% of the child population will be myopic and that 10% of them will develop high myopia, that is, more than six diopters. Due to this, the University of Navarra launched a prevention and early detection campaign with the concept of “fuzzy generation.”

Although the rise in myopia is occurring worldwide, the epidemic is raging in East and Southeast Asia, where more than 80% of people are myopic. Among late adolescents and young adults in Korea, Taiwan, and China, the prevalence is between 84% and 97%.

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Its increasing prevalence is due, according to experts, to a combination of hereditary factors that are not genetic, such as academic expectations and lifestyle, according to Maria Liu, director of the Myopia Control Clinic at UC Berkeley.

“Myopia has always been considered a very complicated problem that involves both genetic and environmental factors,” Liu explains to Noticias Telemundo. “But nowadays it is not uncommon to see children as young as 3 or 4 years old starting to become myopic.”

The problem, according to the expert, is that the prevalence of myopia can pose an enormous socioeconomic burden, “and progressive high myopia can cause eye complications that endanger sight. Therefore, it is important to prevent myopia from starting early progress to pathologically high myopia.”

Little Black Child Having her Right Eye Checked by Professional Eye Doctor
A girl during her appointment with her optometrist.AzmanL/Getty Images

Myopia is a disorder in which the eye grows larger than normal, explains Stanford Medicine, causing light to focus in front of the retina instead of on the retina, making distant objects appear blurry. “High (or severe) myopia is associated with an increased risk of developing vision-threatening conditions, such as myopic macular degeneration, glaucoma retinal detachment, and cataracts,” according to the National Library of Medicine.

And if the condition becomes extreme, it can be difficult to correct.

Another reason why ophthalmologists and optometrists They urge to detect it early in children, and stop its advance, is that there is no cure. “There is no way to reverse myopia,” David Berntsen, associate professor at the College of Optometry at the University of Houston, told Noticias Telemundo. “That’s why parents should know that the time to treat a child is as soon as that child becomes myopic, because the younger they are, the faster it progresses.”

What is the reason for the increase?

Urbanization has clearly had an influence,” says Michael Repka, ophthalmologist, and vice president of clinical practice at the Wilmer Eye Institute to Noticias Telemundo. “Screen time appears to play a role, and spending more time indoors It has its functions. What is not clear is simply the exact magnitude of the impact of each of those factors.”

While there have been numerous studies on the impact of screens, reading, close-range and indoor activities, the results differ, and a cause has not been conclusively determined.

“We know that myopic children tend to do more near work, but there is debate in the literature about whether or not near work is what causes myopia,” explains Berntsen, who also points out that “increases in the severity of myopia, and its prevalence, began long before the first iPhone was introduced.

What studies and experts do agree on is that Outdoor sunlight seems to have a positive effect on preventing myopia. “I think the data is pretty good that a little more time outdoors during the day is very good for reducing risk,” Repka says.

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One theory for why the outdoors may be good is the brightness of outside light, according to Berntsen. “The brightness levels indoors are nowhere near what you would get in an outdoor environment.”

Regarding indoor activities, experts agree on limiting screens to a reasonable amount of time as a positive measure for general health. And if a child likes to read, “I wouldn’t say we should limit the time he spends reading for pleasure,” Berntsen adds.

What can be done?

Ophthalmologists agree that something positive in recent years is that people are more aware of the importance of checking their vision, while ways to stop the progression of myopia continue to be studied.

“The interesting thing here is that people care about this now. And this has gone from being kind of a minor inconvenience with glasses to something that we really care about and we’re looking at how to improve this (vision problem),” Repka says.

“How does a person with myopia see? What treatments are there for this vision problem? Can myopia be stopped?” These are some of the topics addressed in videos with millions of views on networks such as TikTok and Reddit, where people seek to understand it better.

At the same time, experts urge parents to inform themselves about all the options available to stop the progression of myopia, since, the earlier it begins in a person’s life, the greater the likelihood of rapid deterioration.

Some of these options include the use of multifocal lenses, contact lenses, and atropine eye drops to minimize undue elongation of the eye. The problem, according to Berntsen, is that “in the United States there is only one device that has FDA approval to slow the progression of myopia and that is a contact lens.”

Although in the United States there is still pending work in terms of research and approved options to stop it, the first step to improve a person’s quality of life is detect it in time.

“If we can stop it, we could reduce the level of prescription in the long term,” concludes Berntsen.