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Will my child’s glasses make myopia better or worse?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023

As a parent, the idea that your child may need to wear glasses can be concerning. Alongside a worry about what might have caused the eye problem in the first place, there are questions about how far the condition may progress and whether the need for glasses may affect your child’s development or limit their choice of career.

You may also have to contend with a well meaning friend or relative who informs you that making a child wear glasses at too early an age could in fact make their eyesight worse. Like all urban myths it’s one with a grain of truth in it.

A 2002 study [1] found that glasses which were too weak to fully correct the level of myopia could in fact speed up the progression of myopia.

In other words if the prescription is wrong, glasses could do more harm than good. That’s not a reason to abandon glasses; but it is an important reminder of the need for regular eye tests and ensuring that prescriptions are changed as required.

That same study also concluded that the ‘presence of blurred vision at any distance may stimulate the progression of myopia’ whereas a full distance correction would not. So not wearing glasses is not an option. In fact, in addition to potentially increasing the progress of myopia, being unable to see distance could also impact childhood development in other ways. Being unable to see the blackboard at school or having difficulty in seeing and anticipating the movement of a ball when playing games could lead to a falloff in learning, coordination or motor skills; areas which could continue to have a negative impact in later life.

The study quoted above has been replicated a number of times with a 2020 cross-study review published in the Journal of Optometry [2] reaching the same conclusion. Other reports highlight the benefits of wearing correctly-prescribed glasses. A 2012 Stanford Rural Education Action Program report [3] put it bluntly when it concluded that: ‘students who wore glasses experienced a significantly less severe visual acuity decline than students who did not wear their glasses’ and that:  ‘Wearing glasses does not – as the local myth states – hurt students’ eyes!’

So no, wearing glasses won’t make your child’s myopia worse and correctly prescribed glasses could, in fact, help to slow down the rate of deterioration. However, in addition to glasses, some lifestyle factors if not addressed can accelerate the rate of myopic progression.

It’s no coincidence that the percentage of the population with myopia has risen dramatically in recent times.

So much so that some authorities estimate that by 2050 half of the global population will be wearing glasses due to myopia.

With internet-enabled streaming, communicating and gaming taking up more of our time, the amount of close interaction we have with screens has not helped eyesight development.

An Ofcom report from June 2021 [4] revealed that UK adults spent more than 3.5 hours online each day in 2020. And when it comes to our children, the report says that more than 90% of three to four year olds were users of social video sites and apps, with nearly two thirds of children using social media by the time they are eleven. This despite most social media sites having a minimum age of 13.

Online schooling during the pandemic hasn’t helped; forcing children to dramatically extend the amount of time they were working in close proximity to screens. A 2020 study of schoolchildren in China [5] revealed a significant increase in myopia amongst 6-8 year olds with six year olds showing the largest increase. In similar studies carried out between 2015 and 2019 the average rate of myopia in six year olds was 5.7% but this had risen to 21.5% in the 2020 study. By eight years of age the figures had risen to 37.2% in 2020 versus 27.7% over previous years; with a minimal difference being reported in 9-13 year olds.

In other words, close, particularly closer than normal, work can lead to the development of myopia. We should also bear in mind a key side effect of increased screen time; the more time you are indoors, the less time you spend outside. A review from 2019 [6] commented that: “It is now well established that spending more time outdoors during childhood lowers the risk of developing myopia and may delay progression of myopia.”

Studies are ongoing as to the reasons for this but one theory [7] is that the wavelength of sunlight corresponds to the peak in the sensitivity of the average person whilst indoor lights peak at a longer wavelength. Another theory is that natural light can induce the release of dopamine which helps inhibit axial elongation, a contributing factor in myopia. Most likely, however, is that being outdoors will involve far less close work.

What all of this adds up to is that doing nothing is not an option and, furthermore, that actions designed to reduce the development of myopia include not only the wearing of glasses in order to make distance vision clear but also an attention to lifestyle factors.

There is also one other development in myopia management which we will touch on now and will come back to in future articles. That is the use of myopia therapy glasses. These combine the distance vision adjustment seen in traditional glasses with an adjustment to the way in which light falls on the periphery of the retina.

Ideally our eyes should bring light rays at the periphery into focus on the retina. When that doesn’t happen, a change in eye shape is triggered which can lead to increased myopia. Myopia therapy glasses are designed to prevent or at least slow those eye shape changes by refocusing light. It’s a relatively new treatment but it can result in a measurable difference to the progression of myopia in children.

If you're a parent whose child has been diagnosed with myopia, or if they are struggling with their distance vision, we hope you found MyopiaFocus helpful. Please join our community or sign our petition to get the government and NHS to recognise myopia as an ocular disease/serious ocular condition and fund myopia management for children.

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