Myopia Develops Mostly in Childhood

The worldwide trend of an increase in myopia can not yet be proven for Germany. But the trend towards increased close work could lead in the coming years to more children becoming short-sighted. Prof. Dr. Wolf Lagreze and Prof. dr. Bernd Bertram, 1st Chairman of the Professional Association of Ophthalmologists of Germany (BVA) explain how parents can contribute to keeping their children in the picture.

It is relatively easy: Children should spend at least two hours a day outdoors in the open air. Then the risk of being short-sighted drops by half. Close-up work – longer concentrated looking at an object at a distance of less than 30 cm – promotes myopia. Parents should therefore keep a critical eye on how long their children are dealing with smartphones, tablets and computers. Scientifically founded “limit values”, such as the maximum time per day children of which age should look at such screens, does not exist. But ophthalmologists are concerned when toddlers deal with these devices. The younger a child is, the shorter the time spent in close-up work should be.

Why does the eye become short-sighted?

The “normal” human eye is about 24 mm long. A longer eyeball is nearsighted (myop) – just one millimeter more makes for a vision error of 2.7 diopters. When looking into the distance, the eye-catching rays of light are then no longer focused on the retina, but in front of it. In Germany, about 15 percent of all children are short-sighted at the end of elementary school, at the age of 25 then 45 percent of all people are affected. The rate has remained the same over the past 15 years: the percentage of prescription eyeglasses for children and adolescents has not increased. So far, there can be no talk of an “epidemic of myopia”. But Prof. Lagreze and Prof. Bertram recommend parents to have the eyesight of their children in mind.

Environmental factors and predisposition

In childhood, the eye grows, both inherited plants play a role and environmental factors. Daylight inhibits the growth of the eyeball, but ongoing close work promotes it. When eyes grow “too much” in childhood, they become nearsighted – and that can not be undone later in life. A strong myopia of about six dioptres or more also carries other dangers: In the course of life, can cause episodes that seriously threaten the eyesight. Therefore, it is advisable to prevent or at least slow down the development of myopia, explain Prof. Lagreze and Prof. Bertram.

Current opinion

When a child becomes short-sighted, ophthalmologists can use various measures to slow their growth, so that the visual defect remains as small as possible. In addition to influencing the environmental factors, eye drops containing low-dose atropine and special contact lenses are available. In a recent statement, the Professional Association of Ophthalmologists of Germany (BVA) and the German Ophthalmological Society (DOG) have summarized their recommendations on this topic. The lead author of this statement, which is available for download here, is Prof. Lagreze.