The Myopia Epidemic

According to the Vision Council of America, about 75% of adults use corrective lenses either all day or for occasional activities such as reading or driving. Overall, 60% of people wearing corrective lenses are farsighted or hyperopic (have trouble seeing near objects), and 40% are nearsighted or myopic (have trouble seeing far objects). Unfortunately, an epidemic of forced nearsightedness at much younger ages is sweeping across all industrialized nations of the world, and health experts are concerned.

Research shows that between 1972 and 2004, myopia in Americans between ages 12 and 54 increased 66%. While black people don’t experience visual impairment at the same rate as white people, myopia in their population increased significantly from 13% to 34% over the same time period, barely 30 years. Because this study was published in 2009, it’s highly likely the current myopia rates are even higher. 

In Asia, myopia has reached epidemic proportions, especially among young people. Just 60 years ago, only 10% to 20% of Chinese people were myopic, but in today’s teenagers and adults that number is closer to 90%. It’s estimated that as many as 20% of college students in East Asia have the most severe kind of myopia that often leads to cataracts, detached retinas, and blindness.  

Finding the Cause

Because the affected populations are so large and the epidemic began fairly recently, a genetic cause is unlikely. In fact, researchers said genetics could only account for about 15% of cases. This points to the reality that for 85% or more of these people, myopia is occurring as a result of how they’re misusing their eyes in some way. 

Health experts are now suspecting too much near-work (keeping the eyes focused 12 to 18 inches away from the face for long periods of time) as the main cause of myopia.

Since 1970, two prominent medical textbooks have linked near-work to myopia. Keeping the eyes focused on a close object for a long time over-tones the muscles of the eye and trains them to see in only one way, while altering the shape of the eyeball as it grows. Myopic eyes aren’t round like balls, but slightly foreshortened from front-to-back, appearing more like an egg standing on end.

Asian parents are known for placing a high emphasis on education. Research shows Asian teens spend nearly triple the amount of time on homework as students in the US or UK. That means a lot more hours focusing on books, which are close to the face. Additionally, boys in Israel who attend schools known as Yeshivas and spend many hours studying religious texts have been found to be disproportionately affected with high rates of myopia. In fact, many studies now exist that show myopia increases along with level of education, which would naturally require more studying and bookwork. Some research is also suggesting there is a link between people with a high IQ and myopia. This, of course, doesn’t imply a genetic link, only that those with higher intelligence are more drawn to lifelong education and long hours of study. Higher rates of myopia have also been found among children in gifted education classes.

Compounding the problem is a massive overuse of technology as almost everyone spends hours upon hours staring at cell phones, laptops, iPads, e-readers, and video games, some less than 12 inches from their face. 

Anti-Myopia Action Plan

So what can be done to preserve your child’s vision or your own? There’s much you can do, but it begins with breaking the addiction you have to your electronic gadgets and using them only when necessary, not as a mindless pastime. As you make changes, you’ll be a good example for any children you may have to do the same. You might also consider these suggestions. 

Get outside —  

Some experts suggest that children should spend at least three hours outside each day to counteract the amount of near-work spent on studies. Plan family activities for the weekends. It’s a great time to turn all technology off and get to know each other again through outdoor games, hikes, and day trips. Three hours of outdoor playtime is the norm for children in places like Australia, where the weather is sunny all year round. (In Korea 96.5% of 19-year-old men suffer from myopia, but it only affects 30% of 17-year-olds in Australia.)  

Take breaks —  

It’s called the 20-20-20 rule. If you’re doing near-work, take a break after each 20 minutes and focus on something at least 20 feet away from you for 20 seconds. Research shows that the overall impact and development of myopia is very different for those who do long stretches of near-work compared with those who are only exposed to it in intervals.

Get a room with a view —  

If your office or classroom has a window, take advantage of it. Take regular glances at objects in the distance for just a few seconds, allowing your eyes to relax from their close focus.

Practice visual hygiene —

Get an eye exam, not just a vision screening each year. This will allow your doctor to remain current on the integrity, health, and structure of the eye itself, not just how you’re seeing. Increase healing foods in your diet that support good vision such as salmon, eggs, bilberries, dark chocolate, garlic, leafy greens, apricots, carrots, spinach, kale, and broccoli.  

Take supplements —  

Take the best daily eye support herbal supplement you can find, making sure it contains a broad mix of carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin esters, bilberry, and taurine. Additionally, saffron (like the fullest’s own Saffron Latte) is a great way to get your daily dose of supplements.

For more information on Dr. Sadeghi’s services and public presentations please visit him at Be Hive of Healing Integrative Medical Center. You can also sign up for his monthly holistic health newsletter or get a copy of his yearly wellness journal, MegaZEN. Dr. Sadeghi is also the author of two books, Within: A spiritual awakening to love and weight loss, and The Clarity Cleanse: 12 steps to finding renewed energy, spiritual fulfillment, and emotional healing.    

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