Home School Management Myopia in the Classroom – TEACH Magazine

Myopia in the Classroom – TEACH Magazine


Originally published in TEACH Magazine, January/February 2024 Issue

By Deidre Olsen

The future might be one in which every student wears glasses. In recent decades, the prevalence of myopia in children and teenagers has skyrocketed, becoming a pressing global health issue. The situation is so dire that, in Singapore, 83% of young adults have been diagnosed with the condition, which has led to the country being called “the myopia capital of the world.”

People with myopia—also known as near-sightedness or short-sightedness—can clearly see objects up close but find distant objects blurry. It is estimated that by 2050, nearly half of the world will have the condition. In North America, the prevalence of myopia has soared from 28% in 2000 to 42% in 2020.

In the past, this alarming trend was largely attributed to genetics. However, experts now agree that the significant amount of time children and teenagers spend inside and on screens is the leading cause behind this phenomenon.

These behaviours can have adverse vision outcomes on young children whose eyes are still developing. When their eyes focus on near objects instead of distant ones, this causes their eyeballs to elongate, and eventually leads to the development of near-sightedness, which can affect all areas of their lives.

“For children with uncorrected myopia, this means they may be missing out on a lot of learning, hindering their educational experience,” says Naomi Barber, Director of Optometry at Specsavers. “Vision is critical for education, development, social confidence, fitness, overall well-being, and participation in all that school life has to offer.”

Thankfully, there are several proactive measures that can be taken in a school context to improve education for kids struggling with myopia.

Causes and Prevention

There are a number of factors that contribute to the onset of myopia. For young people, this can include a lack of outdoor exposure and increased “near work”—activities done at an arm’s length from the eyes. This is the central challenge associated with using computers, smartphones, and tablets.

Dr. Langis Michaud is an optometrist and the Director of the School of Optometry at the University of Montreal. He says that it isn’t necessarily the devices we use but how we use them that has such significant impacts on our vision.

“We look at them way closer than a book. We also look at them with no pause,” he explains. To lessen the impact on our eyes, he suggests switching phones to dark mode, explaining that, “black letters on a white page are more demanding for the visual system than white letters on a black screen. Lighting also plays a role, as looking at a screen in a dark environment is harmful for the eyes.” In addition to these factors, Dr. Michaud says nutrition and physical activity can help to combat the onset of myopia.

As vision is so vital for learning and growth, it is essential that parents and educators keep an eye out for indications of myopia at home and in the classroom. In doing so, they can identify early warning signs and help prevent long-term conditions from developing; people with myopia can face a host of lifetime risks, such as glaucoma, cataracts, retinal detachment, and vision loss.

Signs and Symptoms

For teachers and parents who want to champion eye health in the classroom and at home, there are a number of myopia signs and symptoms to look out for. If kids seem to have difficulty reading the board, this could be an early indicator of them struggling to see information presented from a distance.

If you notice that a student is squinting, asking to sit closer to the front of the classroom, rubbing their eyes, or complaining of headaches or strained eyes, these could be symptoms of near-sightedness. As well, don’t overlook kids who copy homework from other students, are easily distracted, or lack focus when it comes to reading and concentrating on in-class assignments.

In physical education, children and teenagers might face difficulties catching a ball or hitting a target from a distance. If their siblings struggle with myopia, this is also important to consider, as they are likely to face a similar outcome.

By understanding these various signs and symptoms, educators can help students identify myopia early on and get them the help they need.

Treatment Plans

Eye Exams

When it comes to diagnosing eye conditions and promoting healthy vision, eye exams are essential, especially for children who might not know their vision is impaired. “It’s vital [that] young people aged from six months to early 20s have regular eye exams to make sure myopia and other eye conditions can be prevented, detected, and managed,” says Barber.

As kids grow up, their eyes develop at a rapid rate. As a result, their eye health status quickly changes too. Given this, it is important to have regular eye exams, especially before a child starts school. While at an educational institution, they might receive sight tests and vision screenings; however, these shouldn’t be the sole indicators of vision and eye health.

“Optometrists conduct comprehensive assessments, looking at the level of vision a child has, comparing vision between eyes, monitoring the way their eyes work together, and examining the interior of the eye to check for the risk of any eye conditions,” Barber explains.

With routine checkups, parents and educators can tackle the risk of onset myopia, along with several other eye conditions. Then, if a young person is diagnosed with any of these conditions, steps can be taken to mitigate the associated progression.

Glasses, Contacts, and Eye Drops

When myopia is diagnosed, optometrists can provide children and teenagers with a treatment plan to correct vision and slow down progression. Treatment plans can include a combination of glasses, contact lenses, and sometimes eye drops. In some cases, refractive surgery may be required.

“Given that myopia progresses mainly during childhood, there is a key window to intervene with preventative strategies when the eye is more susceptible to growth and subsequent vision changes,” says Barber. “This can reduce the risk of a patient developing sight-threatening conditions in adulthood due to the structural changes of the eye.”

Dr. Michaud recommends contact lenses that are worn overnight to temporarily reshape the cornea, allowing for clear vision during the day without correction. Additionally, there are contacts that have the potential to slow the progression of myopia and are specifically designed for children ages 7–12 years old. One such brand he suggests is ACUVUE Abiliti.

With an optometrist, parents can find the right treatment plan that addresses their child’s specific needs and lifestyle.

Low-Cost Options for Vision Care

Obtaining vision care can be costly. In Canada, many provinces and territories offer publicly-funded health care plans that have coverage for qualifying children. In the United States, the National Eye Institute lists organizations and programs that offer free or low-cost eye care for both children and adults.

Raising Awareness about Eye Health

In the classroom, teachers can promote vision literacy and encourage healthy eye habits. This is especially important as children learn predominantly through visual content at a distance. Educators can also shift away from screen time and spend more time outdoors with students. (While doing so, teachers should encourage kids to wear sunglasses when in the sun so that their eyes are protected against UV rays.)

If young people have a treatment plan, teachers can ensure they wear their glasses or contact lenses as recommended. If a teacher notices that students are struggling to see, they can check in with parents.

“The best way people can raise awareness around the importance of eye health is to have regular comprehensive eye exams and encourage your family and friends to do the same,” says Barber. “Parents often have many appointments to coordinate for their children, so a gentle reminder, particularly for at-risk children, can go a long way to protecting their vision and, by virtue of this, their ability to learn as they grow.”

As rates of myopia continue to soar around the world, this eye condition will increasingly impact the learning and development of young people. Equipped with knowledge and awareness about this pressing concern, educators can play an active role in promoting a safe and healthy learning environment.

Deidre Olsen is a Canadian, award-nominated writer based in Berlin.

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