This past weekend I was able to sit in on the ECL Symposium on Myopia Epidemic and Myopia Progression put on at The Contact Lens Educational Summit in Denver, Colorado. Surrounded by Optometrists and Ophthalmologists from across the country, I felt a little out of place, but enjoyed learning a little something about Myopia that I would like to share with those unable to attend.
Six speakers shared the lectern at the Warwick hotel speaking and sharing facts as well as solutions for this epidemic. While I am averse to calling anything epidemic in our hyper-media environment, myopia certainly qualifies under most any definition. Myopia now affects 1 in 3 Americans. In a number of Asian countries, that number is well over 1 in 2, with some countries approaching 90%.
For many of you, these numbers are nothing newsworthy. Certainly Optometrists and Ophthalmologists have been kept up with these findings for years now. As a marketing consultant to the optical industry, this however is big news to me. I was unaware that low myopes are twice as likely to suffer from glaucoma later in life and are three times as likely to suffer from retinal detachment as most people. High myopes on the other hand are at three times at risk for glaucoma and at ten times at the risk of suffering from retinal detachment.
Some have mistakenly reported that the increase in Myopia is a result of our ever increasing reliance on digital devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops. Research as far back as 1868 suggest that bookish behavior such as time spent reading for moving forward to today, time spent with screens is not to blame. What today’s research seems to indicate is something very doable, especially for those concerned for the eyesight of their children, which is spend some time outside. It turns out, it isn’t what is done inside such as studying, reading or playing video games that is the underlying cause of Myopia, but the lack of natural outdoor light that is playing such a critical role in the Myopia epidemic.
Research has indicated for example, where Asian students today are in such a hyper competitive educational environment that they not only attend school for long hours, but are tutored after school for several hours as well to get the grades they need to attend the best Universities. To a lesser degree, America’s “helicopter” parents desire to protect their children, end up cutting back the hours kids are out and about playing outside. The latest research indicates that bright outdoor light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development.
This theory has taken on so much importance that this poster in Singapore is imploring adults to take their kids out and play outdoors. This is a great idea not only for eye health, but for overall health, emphasizing the notion that getting outside and playing is healthy….or at least that is my take on the great lectures from Dr’s Karla Zadnik, Jeffrey J. Walline, Terri L. Young, Pei-ying Xie, Maria Liu, and Bruce Koffler on May 2nd.