Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
Short-sightedness, its risks and how to take care of one's eyes
Source: The Straits Times, 28 August 2014 © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction. email@example.com
Spectacles are so commonly worn here that people barely blink twice about seeing someone donning a pair.
But this also means the severity of myopia or short-sightedness—where close objects look clear but those in the distance appear blurry—is largely ignored.
In myopia, the eye does not refract light properly to a single focus point, which is needed to see images clearly. If one’s myopia is high, it can lead to complications, such as lazy eye, retinal detachment, glaucoma or even cataracts.
Related: Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)
While recent figures from the Health Promotion Board’s School Health Service Programme suggest that the myopia rates in Singapore are steadying, they remain “quite high”, said Adjunct Associate Professor Audrey Chia, a senior consultant at the paediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus service at the Singapore National Eye Centre.
Some 80 percent of 18-year-olds here have myopia.
The earlier myopia starts in life, the greater the likelihood of it reaching severe (800 degrees) and extreme (1,200 degrees) levels before it stabilises in early adulthood, said Dr Tony Ho from Clearvision Eye Clinic & Lasik Centre. Anything beyond 600 degrees is considered “high myopia”.
The higher the myopia, the higher the risk of developing severe eye conditions, he said.
Prof Chia noted that the School Health Service provides an annual screening for school children that will pick up most eye conditions.
“So, children usually do not require other eye exams unless there is a medical condition, syndrome or family history of a condition which requires them to be screened for eye problems,” she said.
At home, parents can look for signs of myopia in their children.
“Myopic children will complain that they cannot see distant objects (such as words written on the whiteboard in the classroom) clearly,” said Prof Chia. “They may also start to turn their heads or squint in a bid to see more clearly.”
If there is a need, get your child’s eyes checked for myopia.
“The easiest way is to visit an optical practice, but make sure the optician or optometrist checking the child’s eyes is licensed by the Ministry of Health,” said Mr Shawn Loh, an optometrist at The Lens Men, which has three outlets here.
Typically, an auto-refraction or a visual acuity test can determine if myopia is present. This is a basic procedure—it takes no more than five minutes—that most optical practices perform for free, he said.
If the child has myopia, a subjective refraction (commonly known as the eye test) will then determine the actual prescription needed for vision correction. There may be a fee for this. It costs $30 at The Lens Men, for instance, but this is waived if a spectacle frame and lenses are purchased.
A person has perfect vision if he is able to see objects and words 6m away clearly, without straining the eyes.
In a person with myopia, his dioptre—also known as degree or power—refers to the measure of vision correction needed to achieve that, explained The Lens Men’s senior optician Patrick Wong.
“In Singapore, we commonly use “degree” and “power” when, in fact, these terms are erroneous and would not be recognised in other countries,” he said.
The correct term is “dioptre”. For instance, we should be saying: “My dioptre is -2.00.” This is known, in layman terms, as 200 degrees.
There is no cure for myopia. But for children whose myopia is worsening rapidly—usually those who are six to 12 years old—atropine eyedrops may help to slow its progression.
Clinical trials by the Singapore National Eye Centre and the Singapore Eye Research Institute showed that low-dose (0.01 percent) atropine is effective in slowing myopia progression by 50 to 60 percent over a two-year period, and with barely any side effects. It causes minimal increase in pupil size, according to the eye centre.
But higher doses of atropine can cause blurry near-vision as well as glare when a person goes outdoors, said Prof Chia. The treatment costs about $15 a month, she said.
Myopia is believed to be partly inherited and partly caused by environmental factors, such as the amount of time spent on near-work activities like reading, working or using computers.
Studies have shown that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to develop myopia.
Adjunct Associate Professor Audrey Chia, a senior consultant at the paediatric ophthalmology and adult strabismus service at the Singapore National Eye Centre, said young children do not need sunglasses.
Those who spend long hours outdoors can use a cap, she said.
Beware of cheap kiddy “sunglasses” that you may find at toy stores, as they often do not provide UV protection. “In some cases, they are made of thin plastic which can splinter or dislodge easily.”
Too much near work—which includes reading, using a computer and playing games on hand-held devices—can lead to or worsen myopia. Make sure your child takes regular breaks from near work.
The Health Promotion Board suggests a break after every 30 to 40 minutes of near work, such as reading or working on a laptop.
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Singapore’s schoolchildren have dedicated health resources to tap on. The Health Promotion Board (HPB) gives them ready access to medical and dental care.
Besides offering health screening and immunisation at school visits, HPB also conducts health education and health promotion programmes on healthy lifestyle practices.
HPB’s Student Health Centre, which generally provides preventive and screening services, follows up with the children referred from the school visits above.
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