If your doctor says your child is myopic or has myopia, that means they're nearsighted. They can't see objects far away clearly. It might get worse during their childhood and adolescence, but eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other treatments can help them see clearly. Some can slow down the rate at which it gets worse.
Doctors often discover it when a child is between 8 and 12 years old, but it can pop up later in life. It can get worse during the teen years if not corrected, but eyesight may not change as much between the ages of 20 and 40. Nearsightedness can't be reversed, but you can help your child get treatment.
What Causes Myopia?
If your child has myopia, their eyeball is slightly longer than normal from front to back, or their cornea (the clear part on the front of the eye) may be curved. Light focuses in front of their retina instead of directly on it. When this happens, objects at a distance seem blurry.
Your child may be more likely to have nearsightedness if you or their other parent have it. But genetics is just one part of it. Myopia is rising, and experts think more screen time and less time outdoors could play a role, too.
How Do Doctors Diagnose Myopia?
Your child may not complain when they can't see clearly. Or they might say it’s hard to see objects far away. They might squint a lot or move closer to things so they can see clearly. They may have headaches or rub their eyes a lot. If they seem to have trouble seeing things far away, make an appointment with an eye doctor. You can see an ophthalmologist or optometrist to test their vision and examine their eyes.
Kids should get their vision checked at 6 months, 3 years, and before first grade. It’s especially important if you have a family history of progressive nearsightedness or other eye conditions.
During your child's eye exam, your eye doctor will do several tests to check for myopia:
- A visual acuity test to measure how well each eye can see objects at a distance
- A slit lamp exam to look at the inside of the eye
- A refraction test to decide what lens to prescribe
How Is Nearsightedness Treated?
There are ways to make vision clearer, and some also help keep myopia from getting worse. These include:
Eyeglasses. Single-vision glasses use only one prescription within each lens to correct for a single distance. Multifocal eyeglasses use more than one prescription for correcting vision at different distances. They can correct vision and may also slow myopia from getting worse.
Contact lenses. These can help your child see clearly. But some special multifocal contacts (they focus close up and far away) also can keep myopia from getting worse, too. MiSight is the name of a dual focus contact lens brand that's FDA-approved to slow nearsightedness in children ages 8 to 12. NaturalVue multifocal contacts can control myopia in kids, too. But they aren't FDA-approved specifically to slow progression of myopia.
Your child may be able to switch to contacts when they’re mature enough to take care of them. That usually won’t be before they reach their teens. And keep in mind that parents play a role in teaching them to care for their contacts and making sure they do it.
Orthokeratology, or ortho-K. This type of contact lens doesn't correct vision directly. Instead, it's designed to reshape and flatten the cornea to improve vision. They're usually worn only at night. Researchers aren't sure if this can slow myopia from getting worse. When the child removes them, their cornea stays flat for a while. This means they won't need glasses or contacts during the day. Your child must keep wearing them to see results. Acuvue Abiliti is a brand of ortho-K contact lens that's approved by the FDA to manage myopia in children.
Topical agents (eyedrops and gels). Atropine, pirenzepine gel, and cyclopentolate eyedrops can slow the progression of myopia in children. Taking these topical agents may cause blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and maybe some itching and discomfort. If your doctor prescribes any of these, it's on an off-label basis. This means the drops aren't FDA-approved for this exact purpose – to slow down nearsightedness. Studies suggest that combining bifocals with eyedrops that have atropine, a drug that will relax your child’s eye so it doesn’t squint on the inside, can slow myopia from getting worse.
Surgery. This is possible, but it's not routine for kids – doctors tend to treat nearsightedness with the solutions mentioned above first. Adults typically get refractive surgery (like LASIK or PRK, photorefractive keratectomy) once an adult's prescription no longer changes.
Can Nearsightedness Be Prevented?
Myopia is often inherited. You can't reverse it, but there are steps you can take to slow the progression.
Multifocal eyeglasses and contact lenses, as well as eyedrops or gels, can improve vision or keep myopia from getting worse. But they cannot prevent nearsightedness completely.
Some research says getting at least 2 hours of daylight a day can lower the risk of myopia and may help prevent it. But it doesn't seem to keep it from getting worse in children who already have it. Experts who've studied it think the bright light causes the retina to release dopamine. This chemical may slow down eye growth. Vitamin D may be a factor, too.
Make sure your child gets an eye exam early, especially if you have a family history of nearsightedness or other eye conditions. And pay attention: If you notice them squinting, rubbing their eyes, or having regular headaches, it may be time for an eye exam. It's important for them to have the correct prescription for corrective lenses because overcorrection can cause myopia to speed up.