Myopia (or near-sightedness) is a very common visual condition where things far away are out of focus and difficult to see. In the early 1970s, only 25% of the population was myopic, but now it is estimated to be over 40%. Not only are the overall numbers on the rise, the amount of malignant myopia (ie. a prescription of -6.00D or higher) is increasing as well.
Aside from the natural concern that a high myopic prescription means an increased dependence on glasses or contact lenses to see and function, it also carries higher risks of pathological complications such as cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment.
As such, a lot of research has been focused on the factors that impact myopic progression and developing ways to slow it down.
Myopia is related to age, genetics and ethnicity (higher in East Asians than in Caucasians, for example). Recent studies have indicated that environment also plays a large role in myopic progression. There is an increased prevalence of nearsightedness in children who live in urban areas, do a lot of near work like reading or computer use, and partake in fewer outdoor activities.
How can we prevent myopia from getting worse?
New research indicates that traditional myopic correction with eye glasses and contact lenses may contribute to myopic progression! Despite their effectiveness in correcting central vision, it’s believed that they undercorrect the peripheral retina. This signals to the eye to continue elongating, which increases its axial length and thus myopia worsens.
Current strategies in myopia control focus on young children before significant nearsightedness develops. Vision Shaping Treatment (VST), or orthokeratology, is the most researched and established of these strategies. It involves wearing a contact lens retainer during sleep to reshape the surface of the eye, much like orthodontic braces for tooth alignment. Rather than physical contact, however, the process uses gentle and painless forces in the tears between the lens and the eye. When the lens is removed in the morning, the wearer can have 20/20 vision all day without glasses or contact lenses!
Not only is it a safe and effective alternative to daily eyewear, it also slows down (and in some cases prevents!) worsening of myopia. Wearing Ortho-k lenses has been shown to decrease eye elongation, and in some instances, stop progression altogether. And, as an added bonus, many people enjoy the freedom that comes with not wearing glasses or contacts for activities and sports, such as swimming.
Reversible and Non-Surgical
An added benefit of VST is that its effects are reversible. If the therapy is unsatisfactory in any way, or a child decides later in life to get laser eye surgery, discontinuing wear of Ortho-k lenses returns the corneal shape and vision to pre-therapy condition.
Designing and fitting these contact retainer lenses is a specialized service and not all optometrists or eye care centers offer it. As such, many parents are unaware that they have the option to slow down the progression of their child’s nearsightedness, and think that glasses are the only option.
Alongside spending time outdoors and taking breaks from prolonged near work, Vision Shaping Treatment is the best tool we have to keep myopic prescriptions low and stable. If your child is nearsighted, find an optometrist near you who specializes in Ortho K lenses and make an appointment to learn more about it! It could change your child’s life.