The short answer: yes. While genes can increase the chances of developing myopia (or short-sightedness), it is still possible to develop the issue when your parents don’t have it. It is important to take measures to prevent myopia in your children, regardless of whether it runs in the family or not- here’s why.
As a mother of three young kids, I have lots to worry about. Eye health, however, never seemed so important as my partner and I both have perfect vision. All was well until a few weeks ago when we discovered my eldest son, Ben was diagnosed with an eye condition called myopia. He was prescribed a pair of spectacles which he will probably have to wear for the rest of his life.
First of all- what is myopia?
Myopia (or short-sightedness) is a condition of the eye that affects people’s ability to see distant objects. It is a very common vision issue and, according to plano’s report on myopia and screen time, affects 80-97% of young adults in major Asian cities (including Singapore). It most often develops as a result of spending too much time looking at near objects (e.g. a smartphone screen) which puts a lot of strain on your eyes and can cause them to elongate.
This elongation affects the eye’s ability to focus light rays onto the retina, and therefore translate visual information into an image in the brain.In order to understand how this works, it is useful to have a basic understanding of how the eye functions. There are three important structures in the eye that work together to ensure incoming light rays are focused onto the retina. These structures include the axial length (length of eye from front to back), the cornea and the crystalline lens. They are carefully coordinated to ensure that light rays are focused onto the retina.
When the eye is elongated (as a result of spending too much time looking at near objects), this careful balance in the eye is disrupted, causing light to focus onto an area in front of the retina, rather than on the retina itself. This causes distant objects to appear blurry.
Now with the explanation out of the way- here’s why my son developed myopia, despite us not having it.
Is myopia passed on genetically?
It is true that myopia is more common in children who have parents with myopia, however, people can still develop this issue when it doesn’t run in the family. While genes can increase the likelihood of developing myopia, it ultimately comes down to an interaction between genetic and environmental factors.
Environmental factors include too much time spent indoors, looking at near objects (such as screens) and bad posture; these are what cause the eye to elongate. Studies show that regularly spending extended periods of time (4+ hours) on your screen can increase the risk of myopia 8-fold. As we become increasingly dependent on our smart devices, this carries with it a greater risk of developing myopia. I want to make sure this does not impact the health of my children and so have come up with three ways to go about preserving their eye health.
3 steps to prevent myopia
1. Limit smart device use
The World Health Organisation recommends that children under the age of four spend less than an hour on their screens in a day (30 minutes for >1 year-olds). While this is a good benchmark to aim for, I know that monitoring your child’s screen-use behavior around the clock can be tiresome and sometimes difficult when you have to go out/ to work. To help with this, I downloaded plano, a parental control app which runs in the background of their smart device and sends me alerts when they’ve been on them for too long. Its remote locking feature also helps to get them off their screens when I’m not there.
2. Go walking
While confiscating their devices can deter them from over-using, this may bring about resistance- often in the form of temper tantrums. If you’re ever in this position, simply suggest an alternative activity such as walking outside. Eye health experts recommend spending at least two hours a day outdoors in order to prevent the onset of myopia. This helps to give their eyes a break from the strain of focusing on near objects. Walking is great because it’s easy, gets them out of the house and gets their heart rate going.
3. Go for regular eye-checks
Detect myopia early and you can drastically reduce the risk of your child developing a more severe type of myopia or even vision loss. Optometrists recommend getting your children’s eyes checked at least once a year. plano’s eye check platform keeps track of past eye-checks to ensure visits to the optometrist are regular.
Since discovering my son has myopia, I have become much more proactive in preventing it in my other kids and I hope that this advice will help you do the same. I know parenting can be hard, but rest assured you are not alone and there are many services available to help get your children’s eye health on track!