Why young-age myopia is such an important issue

March 25, 2019 17:27
A survey has shown that one in six Hong Kong kids suffer vision issues before they reach the age of three. Photo: HK Govt

According to a recent survey done by a political party, 41.2 percent of parents in Hong Kong revealed that their children were wearing glasses. And among such kids, 74.8 percent were said to be myopic, while 11.8 percent had the hypermetropia problem. Also, 38.4 percent had astigmatic vision.

The survey also showed that 15.6 percent of the children started to suffer from vision issues before they reached the age of three, while 46.8 percent first experienced such problems when they were between the age of four and six. Forty percent of the parents who had responded to the survey indicated that their children typically spend two hours on electronic devices every day; and over 20 percent were spending more than 4 hours per day. Around 20 percent of the parents confessed that they hadn't imposed any restrictions on the children with regard to the time they spend on devices.

Hong Kong’s percentage of myopic population is topping the global chart according to ophthalmologists. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) states that as eyeballs become dry and pressured after prolonged screen viewing, the risks of myopia will increase. The academy suggests that children under two years of age be kept away from video devices.

Apart from screen time, lack of outdoor activities plus overuse of short-distance vision owing to extended hours of writing, reading and lessons also contribute to the prevalence of young-age myopia.

Myopia: the trigger of multiple eye diseases

While many of us might feel that myopia is something minor and can simply be corrected by wearing glasses, studies have shown that children of ages 8-9 will tend to experience significant increment in the short-sightedness. If the degree progresses to -6.00 or more, that is considered to be high myopia. As these children move into adulthood, they are 7.8 times more likely to suffer from posterior subcapsular cataract and 4.6 times more likely to suffer from glaucoma, compared to those who are not myopic.

Forty-one percent of highly myopic people will eventually be diagnosed with myopic macular degeneration, and they are also 212 times more likely to experience retinal detachment, compared to those who are slightly myopic.

It takes a joint effort of government and parents to combat young-age myopia. The AAO has pointed out that an hour of outdoor activities could help reduce the risk of myopia by 13 percent. Given the scale of the problem, the government should introduce a series of eyecare measures to schools, including increasing the daily outdoor activity time, and assigning registered optometrists to carry out comprehensive optical check-ups for schoolchildren on yearly basis.

For children who are highly prone to myopia, preventative programs and specialized treatments should be offered. Parents, meanwhile, should have more regular outdoor fun with their children and help the kids limit the use of electronic devices. If a kid is spotted squinting or rubbing his or her eyes frequently, check-ups should be scheduled as soon as possible.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 20

Translation by Connie Li

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legislative councilor and head of nursing and health studies in the Open University of Hong Kong