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New Research Reveals Why Young Adults Are Losing Their Vision at an Alarming Rate

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According to the journal Nature, the incidence of nearsightedness (or myopia)
is reaching epidemic proportions in young adults and teens in Southeast
Asia and across the globe. In China, the prevalence of the condition has
grown from between 10 percent and 20 percent sixty years ago to 90 percent today.

At the same time, the incidence of myopia has doubled for young adults
in the U.S. and Europe and now affects approximately one half of the population.
The Nature story also suggests that less time outdoors may be the real
culprit, as opposed to previous research, which pointed to excessive amounts
of near work as the likely cause.

Lack of bright light, near work and DNA may ALL contribute to nearsightedness

When Key-Whitman Eye Center’s
optometrist Sadaf Razi ElHaffar, O.D., was in school 15 years ago, she says, “We studied the theory that
extended amounts of near work was the most likely source of what creates
nearsightedness. East Asians were known to be one of the most myopic populations,
supposedly because students spent a lot more time doing homework and went
to school six days a week.”

According to Dr. Razi, “That theory is now being challenged. As
Nature reports, researchers coincidentally found that the level of light exposure
actually had more influence on the development of myopia than did the
level of near work. However, the research discussed in
Nature mainly focuses on axial length (the overall front to back length of the
eyeball), when in fact, nearsightedness may also be influenced by how
steeply curved the cornea or lens is.”

Lack of exposure to light and near work aren’t they only factors
that may contribute to myopia, genetics likely also play a role. “While
the exact causes of myopia remain unknown, there is more evidence that
there is an interaction of heredity and DNA and environmental factors
that plays a role. Your genes, excessive near work, and lack of exposure
to outside light may all contribute to the development of myopia,”
Dr. Razi says.

Societal changes may also factor into the increase in myopia

Looking back to her own childhood, Dr. Razi believes “changes in
societal norms could also factor into the myopia epidemic. As a mother
of two young children, I see our society leaning more toward entertaining
kids safely indoors, where we can keep an eye on them. That means kids
are spending more time
playing with video games or an app on the iPad than they are climbing trees or riding their bikes around the neighborhood.
When I was growing up, we were encouraged to play outside, which is not
as common these days.”

Are today’s teens and young adults going to experience a higher risk
for myopia than Dr. Razi’s generation? The research detailed in the
Nature piece seems to support this suggestion, and the doctor agrees.

“As eye health providers we promote the same good habits primary
care physicians do for maintaining good systemic health. We have always
encouraged patients to eat a healthy diet, get adequate exercise, avoid
smoking and subscribe to other healthy lifestyle habits. Now, we may also
add the recommendation of increasing outdoor activity and adequate exposure
to natural and bright light,” Dr. Razi explains.

Now young adults have more safe, effective treatment options for nearsightedness

Nearsightedness is inevitable for a significant portion of the population,
and today, coke bottle eyeglasses and contact lenses aren’t the
only options. According to Dr. Razi, “refractive surgery is one
of the most attractive options for young adults who don’t want to
deal with glasses and contacts anymore. It can really be quite liberating
for patients to not have to depend on glasses and contacts.”

Refractive surgery, includes LASIK and PRK (Photorefractive Keratectomy)
and also ICL (implantable collamer lens). “
ICL can be the best refractive surgery option for people who are not eligible for LASIK or PRK. It’s an option
we often recommend at Key Whitman for patients who are highly myopic,”
Dr. Razi advises.

When her patients say they are anxious to pursue eye surgery, Dr. Razi
can relate. She says, “I had LASIK surgery 10 years ago, and when
I see LASIK evaluation patients who are nervous and scared about the procedure,
I can honestly tell them that I felt that way too. I will also explain
how happy I am that I had the surgery and how safe, quick and painless
LASIK eye surgery is today. That insight can be very comforting to my patients.”

Wondering how safe LASIK is? Read this recent post:

LASIK Patient Satisfaction Skyrockets from 60% to 96% Thanks to New Technology
and Screening Techniques

Annual eye health exams are critical to treating myopia and other vision issues

If you’re concerned about your or your children’s risk for
nearsightedness, contact your eye care professional. “I can’t
stress enough the importance of seeing your eye doctor for
routine eye health exams. Not only can he or she treat myopia, but your eye health provider can
also diagnose, treat and monitor a range of other eye diseases and conditions
that you wouldn’t know you had otherwise,” Dr. Razi advises.

Photo Source: iStock for Getty Images

Posted in: Eye Conditions

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