Children should play outside to help stave off short-sightedness, experts have warned. Research has shown that environmental factors play a part in the condition, with higher rates noted in countries where they have a more rigorous education regime meaning children spend more time indoors
Children should be encouraged to play outside to stave off short-sightedness, experts have warned.
In its most severe form the condition, also known as myopia which causes distant objects to appear blurred, while close objects are seen clearly, can lead to blindness.
While cases of myopia are on the rise, one Australian eye health expert warned colleagues are noticing a particular surge in cases of 'high myopia'.
Research has shown rates are highest in countries where they have an intensive education regime, forcing children to spend the majority of their time indoors.
Professor Kathryn Rose, head of orthoptics at the University of Technology Sydney, said: 'We're noticing a rise in the level of high myopia, which is the problematic one.'
She said environmental factors play a huge role in the development of myopia.
'It's clear that there are big environmental drivers in myopia because the prevalence rate in some countries has shot up over a matter of decades,' Professor Rose said.
'While people used to think myopia was genetic, it's quite clear from the rapid change that it can't be genes, it has to be environmental factors.'
Countries with intensive education regimes, resulting in children spending less time outdoors, have higher rates of myopia, she noted.
A recent study that compared Chinese children in Sydney with Chinese children in Singapore found that the Australia-based youngsters have lower levels of eye problems.
The level of myopia amongst the Sydney Chinese children was three per cent, compared to 29 per cent for those in Singapore.
In Australia the Chinese children spent around 13 hours a week outside, while in Singapore they were outdoors for around three hours.
'Myopia has nothing to do with ethnicity and has everything to do with lifestyle,' Professor Rose said.
The condition causes the eyes to continue to grow, causing them to become too long from front to back.
It means light doesn't reach the light sensitive tissue, the retina, at the back of the eye.
Instead, the rays focus in front of the retina, causing distant objects to appear blurred.
Nature reports that the leading theory as to why light helps prevent myopia lies in the idea that light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development.
n Australia myopia affects around 20 per cent of the population. In the UK one in three people are short-sighted, while in the US 24 per cent of the population are affected.
In other parts of the world, notably East Asia, experts have warned of an unprecedented rise in cases, approaching epidemic levels.
The journal Nature reports around 90 per cent of China's teenage and young adult population are short-sighted, up from 10 to 20 per cent of the total population 60 years ago.
Meanwhile some estimates predict one third of the world's population will be diagnosed with myopia by the end of this decade.
Padmaja Sankaridurg, head of the myopia programme at the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Sydney, warned the journal: 'We are going down the path of having a myopia epidemic.'
But Professor Rose warns that with only limited data available, more research needs to be carried out.
She said: 'A lot of this is anecdotal, it's coming from the ophthalmologists who are becoming more concerned about the rise of myopia in young children.
'The earlier children become myopic the more likely they are to end up being highly myopic, which carries quite a high risk of visual impairment and blindness.
'If we see that starting to go up we get very concerned.'
It's recommended that children under six years of age should spend at least 10 hours a week outdoors to help prevent myopia.
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