Lenses can help slow, stop nearsightedness progression

Q: I was surprised to learn that my 9-year-old daughter needs glasses, because she had made no complaints to me, but even more when my eye doctor recommended contact lenses to slow the progression of her nearsightedness. Is this new? And how effective?

A: First, your surprise is no surprise to us. Children commonly develop blurry vision, but perceive their vision to be “normal” and so raise no concerns to mom or dad. Correcting her blurry vision is essential, whether it is with glasses or contact lenses.

Second, there is a virtual “epidemic” of nearsightedness around the world, as children spend more time focusing on their digital devices — tablets, laptops and smartphones — and developing more myopia faster than ever. While this trend is most evident in Asian children, it is true for all children and teenagers.

Finally, studies now show that specialized contact lenses to reshape, and hold, the corneal contour can dramatically slow or stop nearsightedness progression. This technique, called “ortho-keratology” reminds many parents of “ortho-dontics,” in that we prescribe lenses to reshape the front surface of the eyes, a bit like realigning pediatric teeth. This is very different from regular contacts in two ways: These are more rigid than conventional soft contacts, and they are worn only overnight while sleeping, never during the daytime.

Generally, we prescribe “ortho-k” lenses for children age 8 and up, but the most appropriate age depends on other factors as well — the degree of nearsightedness, the shape of the cornea, and even the thickness of the cornea. Talk to your eye doctor about these considerations to see if ortho-k is right for your daughter. Prevention of severe nearsightedness not only can avoid those thick glasses most people dislike, but can also offer a lifetime of less dependence on glasses in general.

DR. THOMAS STOUT, OD, FAAO is an eye physician in private practice at Morgantown Eye Associates. Info: MorgantownEye.com.

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