Short-sightedness is expected to increase by 50% by 2050 with long-term risks for children including vision impairment and blindness. A new contact lens developed by a former aerospace engineer is now available in Australia, providing parents with a welcome option to slow the progression of short-sightedness in children.
"It is important for people to realise that short-sightedness in children is a ticking time bomb with serious long-term risks including impaired vision and blindness. Short-sightedness is set to become one of the leading public health challenges in the future," says Sydney Optometrist and Senior Lecturer, Dr Jim Kokkinakis.
Short-sightedness, or myopia, already affects about 30 per cent of the world's population and is expected to rise to 50 percent by 20501. In Australia, the rate of myopia has more than doubled since the 1970s. Four million people in Australian and New Zealand are currently affected but that number is expected to substantially rise to 22 million over the next 30 years.
Dr Kokkinakis says that parents need to be particularly vigilant with their child's eyesight.
"Much of the increase in myopia occurs in school-age children. While genetics play a part, it doesn't explain the rapid increase in myopia over a generation or two.
Research has found that one factor in the rapid increase in the incidence of myopia is time spent indoors during childhood when the eyes are developing. Kids are indoors more for various reasons, including watching TV, playing computer games and time spent on phones and other devices."
New contact lens that dramatically slows myopia progression now available in Australia
"While there is currently no cure for myopia, preventing it in the first place, or at least slowing down its progression, can help to limit its severity and help to prevent long-term damaging side effects. Even low levels of myopia can put a child at risk for a number of visually damaging conditions, such as retinal detachment, macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma," continued Dr. Kokkinakis.
A new daily disposable contact lens is providing a very welcome option for Australian parents in the treatment of myopia. The new NaturalVue®(etafilcon A) Multifocal 1 Day Contact Lenses by Visioneering Technologies (VTI) were developed using the principles of a pinhole camera by the company's founder Dr. Richard Giffin, an optometrist, optical and aerospace engineer.
"We believe that NaturalVue® Multifocal 1 Day contact lenses are one of the most significant innovations in the optical design of multifocal contact lenses in a generation," says Dr Stephen Snowdy, CEO of Visioneering Technologies. "Current options, such as spectacles or eye drops, don't suit all children and can have limitations, risks or side effects. This is about actually slowing the progression of myopia and giving parents a much needed choice."
"NaturalVue® Multifocal 1 Day contact lenses are easier to fit than some current multifocal lenses, which tend to have a degree of compromise between the near and distant vision components that can make fitting the lenses a frustrating and time-consuming experience. In comparison, NaturalVue® Multifocal 1 Day contact lenses use the principles of a pinhole camera, which have an extended depth of focus so that near and distant objects can be viewed without blurriness."
Dr Snowdy says that results overseas are very promising. Data from almost 100 children fitted with the lenses across 12 different practice locations showed that:
• 90 per cent of the children demonstrated a very significant decrease in the amount of myopic refractive error change.
• On average, 70 per cent of children showed a complete halting of progression of their myopia changes.
Question: What signs should parents look for to detect eye sight issues?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Some signs to watch for are children squinting, moving closer and closer to the TV, concentration problems or having trouble seeing the whiteboard. Many myopic children also prefer to stay indoors as their far-distance vision is blurry. Kids usually don't detect their own vision problems, so it's up to teachers and parents to stay diligent and watch for these signs
Question: How often are eye-tests required in young children?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: It's important that parents have their child's eyes checked every year, especially if one or both parents wear glasses. The best time to do this is at the start of the new school year.
Question: How does screen use affect a developing child's eye-sight?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Whoever designed children's eyes did not design them to spend hours looking at digital devices. A disproportionate amount of time viewing computer screens, in particular smart phones, significantly increase levels of eye strain, which when combined with indoor activity seem to stimulate an eye condition called myopia or short-sightedness.
Question: What is myopia and how does it affect a child's learning abilities and progress?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Myopia, commonly called shortsightedness, is a condition whereby people can often see reasonably clearly at short distances, but will not be able to see distant objects clearly. Light entering the eye is focussed in front of the retina, resulting in blurred vision.
Untreated myopia can have consequences on learning in the classroom – trouble seeing the whiteboard or the teacher means the child can fall behind quickly. Treating myopia with glasses can also have impact on a child's confidence. Many children feel self-conscious wearing glasses, so a contact lens may be a good option in this case. Contact lenses are far superior in participating in sports, which of course promotes the child to get outdoors.
Early treatment to slow progression is critical (otherwise myopia will progress to diseases such as glaucoma, blindness, cataracts, retinal detachment).
Question: How is myopia treated and in some cases, reversed?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Treatment options for myopia include night time hard contact lenses for sleeping in (orthokeratology), pharmaceutical eye drops (atropine), and soft multifocal contact lenses. It is good for parents to seek the best option for their child. Jim is particularly excited about the NaturalVue Multifocal lens, which is a soft contact lens option. This option is disposed of daily, does not require cleaning and arguably more hygienic that lenses that you sleep in at night.
Glasses temporarily fix the symptoms (blurry far vision) but don't actually stop progression, meaning eyesight worsens. Contact lenses such as Visioneering's NaturalVue Multifocal have been shown to halt or slow myopia progression. In recent studies, NaturalVue MF has been shown to slow or halt progression in over 90% of myopic children.
Question: Are contact lenses safe for young children?
Dr Jim Kokkinakis: Contact lenses are very safe for young children. They are not risk free, but with careful monitoring by your optometrist minor irritations can be nipped in the bud. This is especially true of daily disposable lenses are worn.
Interview by Brooke Hunter
Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash