For at least four centuries, people have been looking for a way to explain the prevalence of myopia (shortsightedness), what causes it, and how to cure this eye disorder that currently affects millions of people’s vision, and in some instances results in vision loss and blindness. According to Australian behavioural optometrist and fellow of the International Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control, Gary Rodney, those searches are still continuing in 2021. And there’s still no cure, and its underlying cause remains an unsettled debate between eye scientists.

“400 years down the line, and facing the annual international Myopia Awareness Week in May, we are dealing with an epidemic predicted to affect at least every second person globally by 2050. And while various ways to manage and control its progression have been developed, we are still battling to fully understand this mysterious refraction error,” Rodney says.

Myopia’s Impact on Vision and Life

Myopia, which doesn’t only affect distance vision, but is also linked to serious threats to eyesight like cataracts, non-age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, and retinal detachment, all of which can end in blindness or seriously affected vision if not treated.

At the same time, and even at its lower levels, myopia can also impact on people’s lives by affecting their attitude and reaction to the world they see around them, which they know is not the same as the one seen by others who see it clearly and without a blur. This understanding of their “difference” can affect their self-image as well as how they function and perform emotionally, in learning and during social interaction, Rodney says. 

What Causes Myopia

Discussions and studies are still underway as to whether the refractive error which causes the eyes to only focus clearly on close objects is the result of genetics, an argument based on the three time increase in risk of children with one myopic parent, and six times more likely where both have the vision problem, or the result of the urban lifestyles adopted by those parental myopes and other city dwellers. And there’s an increasing movement towards the idea that it might be a bit of both.

What is known, Rodney says, is that the refractive error is definitely caused by changed shape and or length of the eyeball which leads to the eye focusing short of the retina and affecting the processing connection between eye and brain.

Myopia Progression

“This vision problem starts on young eyes which are still developing, becomes stronger as they go through their school years unless carefully controlled, and depending on its level of seriousness, normally slows this rapid progression to near stability during the 20s.”

However, he says that the ‘stability” is not a given. Not all children experience myopia in the same way. Factors such as the age of onset; degree and speed of change in the shape of the eye; and the speed and intensity of the myopic progression, can result in the more common mild myopia reaching its high, degenerative or pathological levels. And if growth does slow in the 20s, myopia can resurface in older myopes, bringing with it more serious eye conditions, some of which can lead to vision loss.

The Importance of Awareness

Rodney says these varied patterns and outlooks, and the refractive error’s increasing impact with age, underline the importance of global efforts by eye health organisations to increase awareness of this mysterious eye problem with an annual day or week during May every year. And in 2021, these awareness efforts, initially introduced in response to the epidemic rate at which myopia is racing through populations in most developed countries, is even more vital. 

Recent studies carried out on young children under Covid-19 lockdowns during 2020 have revealed results which suggest that the 2050 number could be reached a lot sooner. The studies also showed faster and higher progression levels, and a big rise in onset among 6-year-olds, an age-group previously seen as being unlikely to fall prey to the refractive error.

HEAR: Ultra106.5FM Interview with Gary Rodney – Covid and Myopia: What you need to know!

For more information on myopia and Smart Vision’s approach to myopia management, or to book an appointment, visit the Smart Vision website: Optometrists Sydney: Optometry Services For Children and Adults | Smart Vision; for specific information about Myopia treatment and prevention visit Myopia Prevention: Solutions, Control And Treatment In Sydney; and for detailed information about Myopia Treatment visit Orthokeratology In Sydney: The Non Surgical Alternative.

To book an appointment for a thorough eye check-up, click here or Call the Bondi clinic on (02) 9365 5047 or the Mosman clinic on (02) 9969 1600.

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