By 2050 if you’re not wearing glasses, chances are the person sitting next to you will be, according to the National Eye Institute, suggesting that almost 50 percent of the world will be myopic, or unable to see far, by then. The World Health Organization has called the rapid increase “alarming.”

Myopia typically appears when children are in their early school years and can be associated with long-term eye health problems. No conclusive studies link the rise of myopia in children to their increased use of technology, but enough research and anecdotal evidence exist to validate theories. “Children are doing a lot more ‘near work’ even before kindergarten, especially on digital devices, and not getting outside as much,” said UH’s Kathryn Richdale, associate professor and optometrist.

Responding to the sharp reality of a population with blurry vision, the University Eye Institute is offering its new Myopia Control Service to correct and control nearsightedness in children.

It’s the first of its kind in Texas.

“We can’t stop or reverse myopia, but we can slow down the progression,” said Richdale. “We use certain eye drops or specialty multifocal or orthokeratology lenses.” The orthokeratology lenses are worn while users are sleeping and temporarily re-shape the eyes so users don’t need glasses during the day.

If patients continue wearing the lenses, they slow down the progression of myopia, Richdale said.

image of Dr. and young patient
Kathryn Richdale, associate professor and optometrist at the UH University Eye Institute, examines Joaquin Martinez as part of the Myopia Control Service.

The Persistence of a Preteen

Joaquin Martinez, 12, is a patient. Only slightly myopic, he hates wearing his glasses. He puts it a bit more gently. “I strongly dislike them,” said Joaquin Martinez.

Now every night before bed, he slips in the special contact lenses, and by the next day, he can see perfectly. He rarely, if ever, misses a night.

Martinez is a well-rounded seventh grader. He plays basketball and soccer, loves science and, yes, is a self-admitted video game fanatic. Much of the game time (now limited by mom) is spent playing on cell phones and tablets. She’s reduced him to two hours a day.

Lots of his schoolwork is done on digital textbooks, so he’s on the computer at school, too. Martinez represents a pretty typical American pre-teen, and something more—a study in why myopia rates may have climbed dramatically in the last few decades.

“Outdoor time appears to be very good in cutting the risk for nearsightedness,” said UH assistant professor and optometrist Sheila Morrison. “We do not fully understand why this is, but it may be related to the idea that when people are outside, there is generally brighter light and eyes are focusing on objects farther away.”

“When you consider that children with progressing myopia are at increased risk as adults for developing eye complications and diseases, such as glaucoma and retinal detachments, these breakthrough myopia control treatments that we are offering are game changers for long-term ocular health,” said Earl L. Smith III, dean of the UH College of Optometry.

A game changer for Martinez, too, who disliked his glasses so much he wouldn’t wear them when playing sports.  “Now when I’m playing I can see people’s faces and know who’s on my team and who’s not,” said Martinez.