Singapore has always been faced with a high rate of myopia in children. Around 65 percent of Primary 6 pupils are afflicted with some degree of nearsightedness, according to the Health Promotion Board. Researchers estimate that the direct cost of myopia for each child is around SGD $220 per year. And while levels have remained stable over the past few years, another worrying trend has emerged: early onset, fast progressing myopia.
But aside from financial burdens, myopia also has a dire effect on children’s quality of life. Another study on Singaporean adolescents have found that visual impairment negatively impacts how they relate socially, and how they function in school.
Risk Factors: What causes myopia in kids?
Myopia, to some extent, can be attributed to genetics. Children with parents who have myopia are at a higher risk of being nearsighted. However, the general consensus is that high myopia is a result of both genetic and environmental factors.
Some 10 years ago, myopia was related with higher amounts of school work, or “near work” activities such as reading and writing. Indeed, researchers observed higher myopia levels in Singaporeans with higher level education.
But today, there is a different reason causing the rising rates of myopia–gadgets. And it’s not just because of screens alone. Smartphones and tablets keep children from physical activity and playing outdoors, which has proven effective in preventing and delaying the ocular changes that cause myopia. Increased digital screen time resulting from gaming, social media, and digital entertainment has led to a rise in sedentary behaviour, poor diet and a lack of outdoor activity.
The rise of myopia is fast enough to alarm governments. China has doubled-down on restricting mobile gaming app releases recently, partly in an effort to combat rising rates of nearsightedness. Tencent, one of the world’s biggest mobile game developers, have introduced a time limit feature for minors across all their games as a response. In Japan, smartphones and mobile games are also the cause of record-breaking myopia rates in the country.
Myopia Prevention: Take breaks, eat right, and go outside!
However gadgets, genes, and school work may combine to cause myopia, many studies agree that a proper diet and exercise help prevent it.
One of the tips recommended by National Myopia Prevention Programme, which was created by the Ministry of Health’s Health Promotion Board, is to reduce computer work. Children should be encouraged to take short breaks when doing near work activities like reading or writing. You do not need to send them outdoors to play.
Here are a few eye exercises for restoring your children’s eyes after a long study session:
- Have your child stare at distant objects for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Blink slowly around 10 times.
- Try the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of work, have your child focus on an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Have your child hold out a hand with their thumb out. Ask them to alternate looking between their thumb and into the area around their nose.
Proper nutrition plays an important part in protecting your child’s eyes. And by proper nutrition, we don’t mean being at the proper weight for their age. Your child can look healthy, but still develop myopia because of specific vitamin deficiencies. In particular, researchers have found that vitamin D, B1, B2, C, phosphorus, iron, cholesterol, and protein levels play important roles in improving eye health and decreasing chances of developing myopia.
The types of food below are packed with the vitamins and minerals associated with better eye health:
- Salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, egg yolks, and shrimp have some of the highest Vitamin D content in food. Alternatively, parents can turn to vitamins to supplement proper levels of Vitamin D.
- Lean pork, green peas, beans, and tofu are great sources of Vitamin B1.
- Green leafy vegetables and almonds pack high amounts of Vitamin B2.
- Meats, poultry, and fish are natural sources of protein, iron, and phosphorus.
Outdoor activities can improve your child’s eye health. Researchers found that the risk of developing myopia decreases for every extra hour a child spends outside every week. It’s not so much what they do as how daylight affects the eye’s growth. “Our study provides the first evidence of a significant influence of objectively measured daily ambient light exposure on eye growth in childhood, consistent with more light exposure resulting in slower axial growth of the eye,” according to study from the Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. So if your child isn’t a fan of exercise or sports, simply taking them out for a nice walk in the park can reduce their chances of developing myopia. And Singapore has no shortage of great parks around the city!
Myopia Cure: Can you halt the progress of myopia?
There is currently no way to reverse or cure nearsightedness. But progression can be significantly slowed.
Exposure to daylight cannot be stressed enough. Studies find that it does not only prevent myopia, but can also slow down myopia progression. Some medical treatments have shown promise treating myopia. For instance, low-dose atropine drops have been shown to slow myopia progression by 50 to 60 percent over the course of two years. If your child needs glasses, encourage them to wear it at all times to reduce the need for correction down the line. If your child is a bit older, your doctor may also prescribe the use of specific types of contact lenses to combat myopia.
Left untreated, myopia can lead to more ocular complications for your child when they age, such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataract formation. It’s important to intervene while they are young, especially for children who are at a higher risk of developing severe myopia due to genetics.
Still worried about your child’s eyes? At JL Eye Specialists, our medical director Dr. Jimmy Lim can help you form an action plan for preventing myopia, or for treating it, if your child already has the condition. Book a consultation with us today.