What health condition could possibly trouble a teenager? Kids may need help to channel their energy, but physically they are at their peak. It’s the age of pimples, but they grow out of that. At SIMI PHARMACY we have been learning about one problem that doesn’t clear up by itself. It can start in elementary school and it gets worse with every passing year. It’s also a problem that is affecting more and more young people and doctors are seeing it start from younger and younger ages. The consequences are lifelong.
The problem is myopia. It’s serious and getting worse. About 40 per cent of Americans will be myopic (nearsighted) by the time they are in their twenties. The condition affected less than 20 per cent of Americans in 1970.
Still the US statistics are better than the ones for South Korea, Taiwan and China where the rates are now between 80 and 90 per cent. The World Health Organization predicts that half of the world’s population will be nearsighted by 2050 — with up to one-fifth at an increased risk of blindness due to complications of severe myopia.
Here’s how myopia happens: At birth, we are all hypermetropic. That means we see things at a distance clearly but things close at hand are blurred. This is because the distance between a baby’s cornea and retina is short, so light focuses behind the retina. The eyeball grows and by the age of three most children are well past the hypermetropia phase. But, if growth continues past the normal length, then myopia is the result: light focuses ahead of the retina. We see what is near, but things at a distance can’t be seen clearly. The earlier a child develops myopia, the more likely it is that the condition will progress to a severe form which eventually contributes to glaucoma, retinal detachment, cataracts, and myopic maculopathy.
Myopia is NOT a genetic condition; environment is the determinant. So what is it in our environment that has changed so drastically in the past 50 years?
No prize for guessing.
The amount of time we spend outside each day has declined while the amount of time we spend in front of a computer screen or looking at a mobile phone has increased. At school, computers have replaced blackboard and notebook. Tuition classes are online and
so are many extra-curricular activities. A daily hour or two may be allowed for play – but what is play? Video games, YouTube and social media. All screen-based.
Economic status plays a role too. Usually, the lower a family’s income, the more likely it is that their children will suffer from some health problem. Myopia is the exception: it is much more likely to affect children from high-income families. Rich parents not only put their children in the most academically demanding schools, they can afford to provide their children with piano lessons, dance classes, martial arts instruction and so on. If possible, parents would like to structure every minute of their child’s life…indoors where it’s safe.
So, is it better to be poor and uneducated? NO. Is educational methodology going to take a step backward? NO. Are parents going to permit any situation that is potentially risky for their child? NO.
Do we just have to shrug and accept myopia as the price of doing well in life? NO.
Several things can be done to reduce the chance that a child will develop this condition. The most effective, evidence-based strategy to prevent myopia is also the most low-tech; everyone, rich or poor, can avail of it. It is simply to SPEND MORE TIME OUTDOORS.
Of course a teen who bikes down to the park to hang out with friends is wasting time instead of racking up accomplishments that look good on a collage application. And he or she is unsafe. Anything could happen …EXCEPT myopia. Being outdoors in bright sunlight is good for the eyes. Researchers have yet to discover exactly why being outdoors in natural light helps prevents myopia – but it does. Given the highly competitive nature of today’s world, it may be difficult to convince parents (and kids) of the value of life balance, so let’s not say that an hour spent in a non-virtual outdoor reality is enjoyable for its own sake. Rather, let’s say that youngsters must regularly expose themselves to fresh air and sunshine for the sake of NOT going blind.
Frequent and regular eye examinations in school would be a welcome step. A child is not likely to mention that he can’t see clearly and very few parents are either informed of, or alert to, the signs of poor vision. A school health program can detect early signs and inform parents.
If a student can’t escape from long hours in front of the computer, can the ill, effects be minimized? Yes. (Although to find out how, you will have to spend a few more minutes in front of the computer. Google “computer minimize eye strain”; dozens of sites offer useful tips.)
A recent article in the Review of Optometry described a new strategy for myopia control in children called low-level red-light therapy. A binocular-like device delivers red light to the retina directly, repeatedly, in short bursts. It doesn’t reverse myopia, but it keeps it from getting worse. It’s still being tested but doctors are optimistic.
Here are some myopia antidotes that have been tried but found ineffective: oral supplements, eye exercises, eye relaxing machines, acupressure, magnetic therapy and blue tinted glasses.
Because people working on a computer don’t blink very often, long sessions in front of the screen are likely to result in dry eyes. (Blinking moistens the eyes.) If you are not blinking enough, ophthalmologists recommend artificial tears or soothing eye drops without preservatives. These are available without prescription and do no harm. (Avoid eye drops containing preservatives; they may become irritating if used more than four times a day.) Eye masks also help eyes relax. Some masks warm the eyes, others cool them.
Teenagers, if you would like to impress with a dazzling vocabulary, SIMI PHARMACY can help. There’s no need to speak of mere eye strain when there is an exact word for your condition. If anyone asks why you are not hunched over the keyboard, just say that you are suffering from acute ASTHENOPIA and, as per doctor’s advice, you treating it by nibbling a snack, wandering around and appreciating the clouds for 10 minutes.