You grew up believing that looking at greenery and not reading while lying down would help prevent myopia, but are these just myths?
Dr Jovina See, clinical director of Shinagawa Eye Centre, dispels some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding myopia in kids.
Myth: Looking at green things can help lessen or prevent myopia
Experts think that intense prolonged work that is done up-close may cause myopia in kids.
Exactly how isn’t yet known, but the eye needs to focus (accommodate) harder in order to see up close, and experts believe that this accommodative effort causes the eyeball to grow longer, which may result in myopia.
“While looking at green trees per se does not help to lessen or reverse myopia, it does force us to take a vision break from our near work to look in the distance and hence may help to prevent the development of myopia,” Dr See explains.
“Increasing outdoor activity and exposure to sunlight has been found in recent research studies to be protective against myopia. Whether or not the item in view is green does not matter.
(Also read: Is this the cure for children’s shortsightedness?)
Myth: Don’t lie down to read, don’t read in the dark, don’t read in moving vehicles, don’t watch too much TV
All these activities usually mean that your kid focuses at near objects for a prolonged period, which increases the likelihood of developing childhood myopia.
“So long as a proper distance is maintained and vision breaks are taken, these activities do not cause myopia to increase,” Dr See says.
“However, if you do find that your child holds his books very near or likes to sit very close to the television set, do arrange for an eye check to exclude a refractive error.”
If not spotted and corrected early on, a refractive error can cause improper development of the eye nerve in early childhood, she adds. This condition is called amblyopia (lazy eye) and it may cause permanently impaired vision.
(Also read: My child is short sighted: 600 degrees by Primary 1)
Myth: Sleep early to prevent myopia
There is no scientific evidence showing that sleeping early can help prevent myopia, Dr See says.
But because many kids today spend a lot of time on their gadgets, they end up sleeping late. Looking at devices intensely at a near distance for long periods can worsen myopia, too.
Myth: Eye exercises like rolling your eyes, massaging them and using acupressure techniques can help prevent myopia
There’s no “conclusive scientific evidence” that these work, Dr See points out.
“In fact, chronic vigorous rubbing of the eyes in children (for example, in children with allergic conjunctivitis) can cause astigmatism, another type of refractive error that is often seen with myopia.”
Myth: Eat carrots or other supplements high in Vitamin A to prevent myopia
While a diet with adequate Vitamin A is good for your kid’s health and especially eye health, it hasn’t been proven to prevent short sightedness, Dr See says.
Myth: Wear under-corrected spectacles as wearing fully corrected spectacles will worsen your myopia
Your kid could actually strain her eyes if her spectacle lenses are under or overcorrected, Dr See explains.
Some people mistake this eye discomfort to mean that myopia may be worsened by wearing spectacles.
Having a refraction done by your optometrist to help ascertain the correct power for your lens will soon get you feeling comfortable.
Wearing specs that are under-corrected could also lead to amblyopia (lazy eye) in young children, she says. Studies have shown that the bigger the under-correction, the more your kid’s myopia could worsen.
(Also read: What to do when your child refuses to wear glasses)
Myth: Childhood myopia usually gets better with age
A young child’s eyes can accommodate (focus) more strongly, says Dr See. When they focuses on a vision chart, this sometimes causes the amount of myopia measured to be erroneously high.
But your kid gets older, their eye accommodates less and this often leads to a lower measurement of the degree of myopia. This gives rise to the deceptive impression that myopia gets better with age, she explains.
(Also read: Does poor eyesight cause bad grades?)
Myth: Pinhole devices can help improve myopia
If you’ve noticed, pinhole glasses come with many small holes. They work by letting in a small number of light rays, which forms a sharp image on the retina.
While they give good clarity temporarily, they don’t actually correct myopia, Dr See points out. Plus, they narrow your kid’s visual field and can cause them to fall down or bump into things.
In fact, squinting your eyes creates the same effect as looking through a pinhole to give you sharper vision temporarily – this is often the first sign that your child may have myopia.
Myth: Lasik can cure and permanently reverse myopia when kids are older
“Once the eyeball elongates to give rise to myopia in childhood, the length of the eyeball cannot shrink to become shorter,” Dr See says.
So, while Lasik surgery can correct your kid’s myopia later on and remove their need to wear spectacles and contact lenses, their eyeballs remain equally elongated.
This also means that the risks associated with high myopia, such as retinal detachment, myopic macular degeneration, early cataract and glaucoma, remain with them for life, she adds.
It’s therefore better to prevent your kid from developing high myopia in childhood.
Myth: Atropine eye drops can reverse myopia
They can’t. But the good news is that if used daily, atropine eye drops can slow down childhood myopia, Dr See explains.
Kids in Singapore are now given a lower concentration of 0.01 per cent atropine, which has minimal side effects – and these are reversible once you stop using the drops.