What you need to know:
- Dr Franklin Wasswa, an optician at Entebbe Grade B Hospital, says the soaring rates of near-sightedness in children are alarming parents and doctors around the world.
Cases of near-sightedness in children and young people are soaring around the world, with some countries reporting rates of more than 80 percent. Ultimately, a child's eyesight is part of their general wellbeing and their mental health.
According to four Rapid Assessments of Avoidable Blindness (RAAB) surveys conducted in Uganda, the prevalence of blindness is 0.4 percent, which is equivalent to 160,000 people while moderate and severely impaired sight is seven percent, which is nearly 2.8 million people.
The leading causes are cataracts and refractive errors such as near or far sightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia.
Dr Franklin Wasswa, an optician at Entebbe Grade B Hospital, says the soaring rates of near-sightedness in children are alarming parents and doctors around the world. The problem seems to be spreading at a faster rate than ever before and if there is no change in the current trends, about 50 percent of the world's population will be shortsighted by 2050.
What is nearsightedness?
When a person is nearsighted, they struggle to see things at a distance. The challenge is that not even glasses can permanently fix this problem. Myopia is one of the leading causes of vision impairment and blindness globally.
“The eyeball should be more spherical (such as a rugby ball) and not oval (such as a basketball) but as we grow, the eyeball grows longer. When the length growth is not controlled, then you start having a problem with casting image on the retina. The image is usually cast before the retina, hence becoming shortsighted,” Dr Wasswa says.
In children, this problem does not only affect their ability to learn and enjoy their daily life but also sets them up for future eye health problems.
“While the typical age for a child to develop myopia is between eight and 12 years, children are becoming myopic at a younger age. When children develop myopia at such an early age, it increases their risk of severe myopia in their adulthood and other eye problems such as cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment,” he adds.
The factors at play
While a family history of myopia raises the risk of a child developing it, a small fraction of the cases are genetic. Dr Wasswa remarks that the biggest contributors of childhood myopia are lifestyle factors, especially a lack of time outdoors.
He says, “Having little light entering the eye reduces the growth in length of the eye lens into the shape of the rugby ball and instead becomes more round daylight is, therefore, important.”
The way children obtain education in the modern world is questionable because they spend long hours in classrooms which is hurting their eye health.
“The other theory is having to read or look at something so close always during the age of eyeball development which is from birth to adolescent age,” he says.
Like education, a higher income is generally associated with greater wellbeing in children, but this is the opposite when it comes to eye health. Instead, myopia is associated with higher socioeconomic status.
According to Dr Wasswa, children, especially those whose parents are in the middle income class are even suffering more because they are always indoors in an apartment on the third floor, watching television, using the tablet or playing video games.
He says, “They do not have a play area save for the parking lot and they go to schools that prioritise education and trash play time as part of a healthy lifestyle so they do not get enough play time in the sunlight.”
Although some children and adults with myopia can live a normal life with glasses as a treatment option, myopia causes a lot of stress on the anatomical structures of the eye which puts them at risk of other eye conditions such as retinal detachment, cataracts and glaucoma. It is important that they have a regular check up on their eye health.