Myopia (nearsighted, reduced distance vision) is increasing worldwide at an alarming rate. In the US alone, myopia has doubled in the last 30 years, affecting one in four people over the age of 40. By the year 2020, it is estimated that 2.5 billion people or one-third of the world’s population will have myopia. Further global projections predict myopia to reach almost one-half of the world’s population by 2050. Currently, some East Asian countries have myopia prevalence of 70-80% of the population.
Why is this cause for concern?
Myopia is the most frequent cause of distance impairment in the world. Left uncorrected, it leads to a reduction in the quality of life of an individual and associated economic consequences. Additionally, myopia increases the risk of serious ocular disorders including myopic macular degeneration, retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts. Another concern is myopia is starting at younger ages, which typically leads to more rapid progression and likelihood of developing high myopia; a degenerative condition with increased risk of vision loss.
How does lifestyle and family history impact myopia prevalence?
Myopia development is influenced by both environmental and genetic factors. Several studies show an association between education, socioeconomic status and occupation with myopia prevalence. A higher prevalence of myopia in urban areas has also been documented in multiple studies. In general, these all indirectly represent the effects of reading or near work activity on the visual system. While behavior and environment play an important role in myopia development, hereditable factors are also significantly associated. Children of myopic parents are more likely to develop myopia in childhood or adolescence from anatomically heritable longer eyes. Even stronger associations exist for children if parents have higher levels of myopia. It is estimated that 50-90% of myopic refractive errors originate from family history.
What lifestyle changes can protect against myopia development?
While little can be done to change genetic factors in myopia development, changes in certain environmental factors show a protective effect. Specifically, participation in sports and time spent outdoors is associated with a decreased risk of myopia. Planning outdoor activities on the weekends, taking walking breaks at work or joining an outdoor team sport are all lifestyle changes with visual benefit. Because of the earlier onset of myopia, it is also important to frequently monitor the eye for any refractive error change to reduce risks associated with myopia and seek treatment options. Along with annual eye exams with an eye care professional, in-home monitoring is also encouraged in-between visits for those at increased familial risk of myopia development.
About The Author: Dr. Careen Caputo
Dr. Careen Caputo graduated with her Doctor of Optometry degree from the Southern California College of Optometry (SCCO) in Fullerton, California,
after completing a BS in Visual Science. Dr. Caputo received specialized training in low vision at the Center for the Partially Sighted in Santa Monica as well as rotations in ocular diseases. Dr. Caputo will complete her Master’s in Public Health in Global Health Leadership at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California in 2017, where she conducted research in an underserved community to inform and develop educational materials to increase awareness of diabetic retinopathy in a Latino population with diabetes. Dr. Caputo was awarded the Delta Omega Honorary Society in Public Health. She volunteers her time at community clinics giving eye exams to the underserved, working to increase access to quality affordable eye care. Her aspiration is to reduce the burden of vision loss through increasing awareness and access to timely, acceptable and quality eye care to vulnerable populations both locally and globally.