Myopia or Nearsightedness in Children

Last Editorial Review: 6/21/2005
The Cleveland Clinic

Children often have a progressive form of myopia (nearsightedness) that worsens throughout childhood, but their vision is easily corrected with eyeglasses, and it usually stabilizes when they reach their 20s.

What Causes Myopia (Nearsightedness)?

Nearsightedness, medically called myopia, is the inability to see objects at a distance clearly. In people with myopia, the eyeball is slightly longer than usual from front to back. Light rays which make up the images you see, focus in front of, rather than directly on the retina, the light-sensitive part of the eye. When this happens, objects at a distance seem blurry and unclear.

Progressive myopia or nearsightedness is predominantly caused by genetics. Children inherit a tendency to develop myopia from their parents. The manner in which a person uses their eyes may also have an influence on the progression of myopia. Recent studies link myopia with performing detailed or up-close work, such as reading a book too closely.

How Do I Know If My Child Has Myopia?

A child with myopia may complain of headaches, eyestrain, and fatigue when having to focus on something more than a few feet away. Most often, young children with myopia only complain of difficulties seeing things far away. A child with myopia may move closer to objects to see clearly. If your child complains of any of these symptoms, make an appointment with an eye doctor. [link to Eye_Doctors.doc]

In addition, make sure your child is examined in the first year of life, at age three, and every two years afterwards, especially if there is a family history of progressive nearsightedness or other eye conditions.

How Is Myopia (Nearsightedness) Treated in Children?

It is still controversial whether progressive myopia in children can be slowed down. Some recent studies suggest that the use of atropine combined with bifocals slows the progression of myopia.

A child with myopia can wear eyeglasses . They can also start wearing contact lenses when they are physically mature enough to take care of them. Often this depends on how involved the parents are in caring for the contact lenses. Pediatric ophthalmologists rarely recommend contact lenses before a child enters his or her teens.

Talk to your child's eye doctor to find if contact lenses can help your child.

Can Myopia Be Prevented?

Since nearsightedness is inherited, it is not possible to totally prevent its occurrence. However, there are steps you can take to minimize its effect. Make sure your child is examined early, especially if there is a family history of progressive nearsightedness or other eye conditions. If it is uncomfortable to do work or watch television from a standard distance, your child may already be developing nearsightedness and needs an examination.

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Cole Eye Institute.

Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, WebMD, October 2004.


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