A blurry past, a clear future

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Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, is a global issue that only seems to be growing. Research indicates that it is on the rise and becoming more prevalent at ages as young as six years old. The University of Waterloo&rsquo;s Centre for Contact Lens Research is hoping to change that concerning trend.</p>

University of Waterloo researchers are currently conducting a global multi-year study on myopia and have designed a special “dual-focus” contact lens that not only helps to correct myopia in children but also has the potential to slow its advance.

Prof. Deborah Jones, head of the Paediatrics and Special Needs Clinic in the School of Optometry and Vision Science at UW, is the lead researcher of the myopia study, and hopes to have the preliminary results published later this year.

Myopia occurs when individuals are able to see nearby objects but have difficulty discerning objects in the distance. Jones points out that in myopic individuals, “the eye is a bit longer than average,” with the result being that incoming light does not focus correctly on the retina. Jones defined the retina as “the layer of cells at the back of the eye that processes the image, sending the information to the brain.”

Asked why more children are becoming myopic at an earlier age, Jones replied that the increased incidence of myopia in children may be related to the amount of time that they spend indoors doing activities such as reading, watching television, or spending time in front of a computer.

A questionnaire on lifestyle factors was completed by participants in the myopia study and Jones indicated that the next step will be an attempt to correlate the questionnaire results to the study outcomes.

Jones noted that there are currently three known causes of myopia — a genetic component from myopic parents, lifestyle or environmental factors, as well as some forms of cataract in adults. Jones commented that “myopia usually develops in the early teen years, with the elongation of the eyeballs developing gradually,” with the eyeballs changing from a round to oblong shape, but added that “if you’re not myopic by the mid-20’s, you’re not likely going to be myopic.”

Although myopia is on the increase globally, Jones observed that for reasons largely unknown, it is more common in Asian countries than in Europe or Australia. According to Jones, one Chinese research study found that 95 per cent of Chinese university students and 78 per cent of Chinese 15-year-olds are myopic. By contrast, European studies revealed that myopia is present in only about 10 per cent of children in Finland and 12 per cent of Australian children. Jones estimates that in Canada about 17 per cent of children age six to 13 are myopic.

Although there seems to be nothing that can be done in terms of prevention, Jones remarked that spending more time outdoors in daylight hours would be “a positive factor that tends to slow the progression of myopia,” suggesting that parents may want to schedule more time for their school-aged children to participate in outdoor activities.

The special disposable “dual-focus” contact lens developed by Jones’ research team would help slow down the progression of myopia in children. This is thanks to a special design using a complicated optical system that specifically changes the way in which light is focused on the periphery of the retina.

Jones noted that slowing down the progression of myopia in children is an important step in preventing eye disease later on in life. According to Jones, “people with high prescription due to severe myopia are more at risk for eye complications such as cataract, glaucoma, and retinal detachment — all of which can eventually lead to reduced vision or blindness”. 

Already available in Malaysia and licensed here in Canada, Jones confirmed that there are plans to launch the newly designed “dual-focus” contact lens in 2017 and make them available through optometrists and other eye care professionals.