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A coalition of vision groups held a briefing on Capitol Hill this week to educate legislators on increasing incidence of myopia and the associated cost burden.
With myopia on the rise over the last 50 years, without intervention it is anticipated that half of the world's population may be nearsighted by the year 2050.
This could lead to more people who are dependent upon eyeglasses for good vision, and a large number of those people also could develop vision-threatening eye conditions. It also could result in a flood of patients to ophthalmology practices.
To start a search for solutions, the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research on Wednesday organized a Congressional briefing held in conjunction with the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Optometric Association, Research to Prevent Blindness, and the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
Studies estimate that the global impact of uncorrected myopia results in a $244 billion annual productivity loss, while blindness from myopic macular degeneration results in a $6 billion annual productivity loss.
Speaking during the briefing were Katherine Lee, MD, PhD, a pediatric ophthalmologist at St. Luke's Children's Hospital in Boise, Idaho; and Jason Compton, OD, of Compton Eye Associates, in New York, New York.
According to Lee, there are significant eye problems that go along with nearsightedness and most are associated with the retina. These issues include retinal detachment, glaucoma, early cataracts and myopic maculopathy, a leading cause of blindness worldwide.
Susan Vitale, PhD, an epidemiologist at the National Eye Institute, pointed out recently that amid the increasing prevalence of high myopia, ophthalmologist can expect to see a corresponding increase in these serious complications.
While screen time has been receiving a lot of press amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee noted that myopia trends started before electronic devices dominated everyday life.
“However, use of small electronic devices are a contributing factor, though the science has not caught up with that,” Lee said. “We have not determined that those devices, per se, in and of themselves are significant in causing an increase in nearsightedness.”
Lee noted that there are areas of research seeking alternatives to slow the progression of myopia.
“Nearsightedness occurs in childhood, and the treatments are for children,” she said. “Once you become nearsighted, there isn’t a good way to change it. “
It is known that outdoor sunlight may slow the progression of myopia, and Lee noted that if children spend more time outdoors, it can help slow myopia. New research suggests that adding 30 minutes of daily outdoor activity reduces the progression of myopia in children if the activity is continued.
However, there are few therapeutic options for treatment.
“The dilating drop atropine, at a low dose, can slow the progression of myopia by 50 percent,” Lee explained.
The drops can slow the progression and have fewer side effects compared with a higher concentration preparation, and its use continues to be studied in the US.
Lee also suggests lifestyle changes, including taking breaks form reading, tablets and cell phones.
“Every 20 minutes, users should take a break for 20 seconds and look at something at a distance of at least 20 feet,” she said.
There also are other treatments, according to Lee. Wearing a special contact lens at night can flatten the cornea.
“One of the interesting things about the growth of the eye is that the cells that cause the growth are at the front of the eye,” she explained. “These cells, with traditional correction of nearsightedness, get a blurred image and send a signal to the eye to grow so the eye is in better focus.”
Lee noted that special contact lenses and eyeglasses are designed to give the cells a better image to help control the growth of the eye and slow myopia progression.