Learn the main causes of cataracts and know how to spot cataract symptoms, so you may find a way to slow the development or prevent the eye disease early.
When we think of cataracts, we tend to think of the middle-aged and elderly—and rightly so. It’s true that this clouding of the eye’s natural lens is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 40 and is the principal cause of blindness in the world. According to Prevent Blindness USA (PBA), cataracts currently afflict more than 22 million Americans age 40 and above. As our population ages, that number will increase to 30 million by 2020.
The answer is another rapidly spreading, progressive eye condition that is quite common in children and teens. Not only does it cause problems of its own, it also correlates highly with other serious eye conditions, especially causes of cataracts. That problem is MYOPIA.
Myopia is the technical term for nearsightedness. Exactly backwards of what you’d expect, in nearsightedness, up close (or “near”) vision needed for reading, computers, and the like is not the problem. However, it’s “far”/distance vision (movie screens, sports field goals, the schoolroom blackboard), that poses the problem.
Like cataracts, myopia is a major vision concern worldwide. In fact, a recent study by the National Eye Institute (NEI) shows the prevalence of myopia grew from 25 percent of the U.S. population (ages 12 to 54) in 1971-1972 to a whopping 41.6 percent in 1999-2004. In Asia, it’s more like 80 percent. Doctors cite increased eye fatigue from close attention to computers, video games, social media, and reading as likely contributors to the rise in myopia cases—a trend that will continue to rise in today’s digitally focused environment.
Myopia usually develops in childhood. There’s a possible genetic component involved. If one or both parents are nearsighted, the child’s risk is higher (but not always!).
Mild myopia may be an annoyance but typically does not increase a person's risk for eye health problems. However, moderate and high myopia can be associated with serious, vision-threatening side effects. In cases of high or very high myopia, the terms “degenerative” myopia or “pathological” myopia are sometimes applied—daunting language, given the ultimate result can be total blindness.
The Scary Link Between Childhood Myopia + Cataracts
A study of cataracts and cataract surgery outcomes among Koreans with high myopia found that cataracts tended to develop sooner in highly myopic eyes than normal eyes. High myopia had a higher prevalence of other coexisting diseases and complications, such as retinal detachment.
Highly nearsighted people also did not achieve optimal outcomes of cataract surgery. Not to mention cataract surgery costs a fortune and visual outcomes following cataract surgery are not as good among highly nearsighted eyes. In other words, an ounce of myopia prevention now is worth a pound of cataract cure later.
If you have a myopic child, you might already be familiar with this cycle:
- Take child to annual eye exam.
- Fill new bifocal (or contact lens) prescription.
- Repeat (unless glasses/lenses are lost or broken and must be replaced mid-year).
But here’s an interesting wrinkle on the traditional glasses/contact lenses myopia treatment: Researchers recently discovered something fascinating about the progression of nearsightedness. Conventional glasses and contact lenses that have been prescribed for years to correct myopia may actually worsen its progress throughout childhood!
So, not only are those glasses/contacts costing you dearly, you may actually be increasing the long-term risks associated with your child’s myopia.
We encourage you to think of eye care in the same way as health care and dental care: essential to your child’s growth and well-being. Your obvious goal as a parent is to identify and address all eye-associated issues quickly. Work with your ophthalmologist or optometrist to create a plan.
Treatment Options for Children
Researchers continue to look for new and better ways to treat myopia naturally. A number of different techniques have been tried, including the traditional: fitting children with bifocals and progressive lenses.
A non-invasive technique that’s gaining popularity is orthokeratology, or Vision Improvement Therapy (VIT) Invisalens is a brand you can try. With VIT, a specially fitted rigid gas permeable (RGP or GP) contact lens reshapes the cornea while your child sleeps. When you remove the RGP lenses in the morning, your child’s cornea temporarily retains the new, corrected shape, so he can see clearly throughout the day without glasses or contact lenses. This can be a tremendous short-term benefit for kids playing sports or studying/playing in dusty environments that can irritate regular contact lenses, and in the long term helps prevent causes of cataracts.
Vision Improvement Therapy (VIT) can help eliminate myopia in the long run, thus preventing cataracts, so parents should have their children’s eyes checked for myopia as soon as possible and eliminate it early on.
Orthokeratology and a related GP contact lens procedure called Vision Improvement Therapy (VIT) have proven effective at temporarily correcting mild to moderate myopia. Both VIT and CRT are state-of-the-art alternatives to traditional daytime glasses/contact lenses. Both provide a non-invasive yet effective alternative to refractive surgery, which is typically not recommended for children.
Don’t wait for your child to complain of vision problems. Whether he’s 3, 8, or 18, make an appointment today to get his eyes checked. If the doctor finds any areas of concern, take action immediately.
If your child is diagnosed with myopia, explore all your options with the doctor—and don’t forget to inquire about Vision Improvement Therapy (VIT). Take control of your child’s myopia now, before it progresses. Cataracts are just one example of long-term eye conditions that can arise if myopia goes unchecked. Thus, taking control of your child’s nearsightedness now pays off with better vision in both the short term and the long term.