If there’s one major hope of this entire website, it’s to start viewing progressive myopia as a health issue and not just a vision issue. As someone who is nearsighted, I absolutely get the vision impact. Glasses and contact lenses involve costs and time. The visual impact is tangible. But, what should get discussed just as much is that myopia increases a person’s risks for certain medical conditions of the eye. Progressive myopia, especially in children, should get more air time because it’s setting up that child for these increased risks once they get in adulthood.
Here’s 5 reasons why progressive myopia is a health issue and not just a vision issue
1. Myopia is associated with a higher risk for retinal detachment.
The retina is the lining of the inside of the eye. It’s filled with special pigmentation cells and neural circuitry. The retina is responsible for absorbing vision and sending it back to the optic nerve which takes it back to the brain for processing. If the retina detaches from the inside lining of the wall it could lead to permanent blindness depending on the location of the detachment. Retina detachments require prompt surgical repair. One study found that 55% of all retinal detachments not caused by trauma were myopia related
2. As myopia increases, so does the risk for retinal detachments
We call this a dose-dependent effect and it’s what concerns me most about progressive myopia. One study showed mild myopia is associated with a 4x increased risk for retinal detachment. But, moderate and high myopia were associated with a 10x increased risk for detachments. Why this is concerning is that when we see a child with worsening myopia every year, his or her risk for retinal detachment later in life is increasing right along with it.
3. Myopia is a risk factor for glaucoma
Glaucoma is a condition in which irreversible damage occurs to the optic nerve. In moderate and advanced stages, glaucoma causes permanent vision loss peripherally. We know major risk factors for glaucoma are age, family history, race, and eye pressure. But, in clinical practice and research, we observe that myopia is a risk factor for glaucoma as well. One study in Australia concluded that having glaucoma was 3 to 4 times more likely in patients with myopia.
4. Myopia may increase cataract development
Cataracts are essentially a “cloudy” change to the lens that is inside our eye. Most people develop cataracts as they enter the sixth or seventh decade of life, but studies show myopia increases the severity and likelihood of certain types of cataracts. Unlike glaucoma or retinal detachments, vision loss from cataracts is reversible through surgery.
5. High myopia is associated with myopia macular degeneration
In higher amounts, myopia can cause degeneration of the part of the retina called the macula. The macula is responsible for a person’s central and fine, detailed vision. Once the area is damaged, the changes are permanent. This type of vision loss would make looking at a person’s face or reading print very difficult.
After writing this list, I realize this all sounds pretty scary. I try not to be the doom and gloom guy who aims to scare people. But, I really want to increase awareness around these health risks of progressive myopia. Adults who are myopic got there through progression of worsening vision in their childhood and/or teen years. Educating parents that there are long-term health risks associated with this progression is an effective way to view progressive myopia as more than just a vision and cost issue. I also think that is what makes myopia intervention in children an important topic as well.
As always, I’d love to hear your feedback or questions!