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One of the world’s fastest growing epidemics is not what you think


With attention towards the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the globe, there is another epidemic growing in front of our eyes. In fact, it’s literally happening to our eyes.

Myopia, also known as shortsightedness, is one of the world’s fastest growing epidemics with estimates showing more than 50 per cent of the global population will have the condition by 2050.

What is myopia?

Myopia is a condition that causes difficulty focusing on objects in the distance. It’s very common, affecting about 6.3 million Australians, yet according to the Optometry Australia 2020 Vision Index, 33 per cent of Australians had never heard of myopia.

People affected by myopia may struggle to read road signs, read the scores while watching sport on TV or recognise people from afar.

What causes myopia?

Myopia occurs when the eyeball grows too quickly in childhood or starts growing again in adulthood. Research suggests genes are partly responsible for short-sightedness, but it has also been linked to environmental factors such as too much time indoors, focusing on near objects like books and screens.

Our eyes naturally focus on objects about 6 meters away, so they’re actively working to focus at close range when working on a computer, reading a book or using a smartphone. Prolonged indoor time, with with too much time focusing on near objects can lead to myopia.

A lack of exposure to outdoor light has also been linked with childhood onset myopia. Researchers have found our eyes require daily natural light to develop properly so as we transition further into a digital society, this trend is only set to continue without intervention.

What can be done to avoid this condition?

Cutting back on screen time and getting outdoors is essential to develop healthy eyes amongst children and maintain good vision amongst adults.

While screens are unavoidable for many, we can give our eyes a break by following the 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes shift your gaze from the screen to focus on an object 20 feet away (6 meters) for 20 seconds.

Children need at minimum one hour of daily outdoor time, preferably two, to ensure healthy development of the eyes.

Signs of myopia

Here are some of the common symptoms:

  • * Difficulty seeing objects in the distance or objects appear blurry;

  • * You need to squint or partially close your eyes to see clearly;

  • * You get headaches that are caused by eyestrain;

  • * You have difficulty seeing while driving and have trouble reading road signs, especially at night.

 

Myopia can’t be cured, but it can be easily corrected with glasses, contact lenses or refractive surgery. As a progressive condition that may worsen over time, early detection is vital so regular eye examinations are a must and if you’re experiencing symptoms you should see an optometrist immediately.

You can use this find an optometrist tool to locate your nearest practitioner and make an appointment today.

Luke Arundel is Chief Clinical Officer of Optometry Australia. He graduated with Honours in Optometry from Queensland University of Technology in 1998 and has worked extensively in Australia and Ireland. He currently holds fellowships with the BCLA, CCLSA and IACLE and became an Adj

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