Brain and Body

Half the World Projected to be Short-Sighted by 2050: Electronic Devices to Blame?

February 22, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

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One in ten will be at risk of blindness.

New research from the Brien Holden Vision Institute, the University of New South Wales Australia, and the Singapore Eye Research Institute projects that about 5 billion people, or half the world, will be short-sighted (myopic) by the year 2050.

According to the study published in the journal Ophtalmology, one in ten people will be at significantly increased risk of blindness if the current trends continue. In fact, myopia will become a leading cause of permanent blindness around the globe.

To quantify this increase, the study says that there will be 260 million myopes in the US and Canada by 2050 —  a jump from 90 million in 2000. Additionally, there will be 66 million high myopes, a jump from 11 million in 2000. High myopia is a severe form of the condition in which the eyeball stretches and becomes too long, leading to holes or tears in the retina.

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These figures suggest that the number of vision losses from high myopia is projected to increase seven-fold by 2050 — what the researchers call a “major public health problem.”

What’s causing this increase in myopia? Globally, the authors attribute it to "environmental factors (nurture), principally lifestyle changes resulting from a combination of decreased time outdoors and increased near work activities, among other factors.”

The authors suggest that it’s critical to plan for the comprehensive eye care services that will be needed to keep up with the rapid increase in myopes, as well as develop treatments to help control the progression of myopia and prevent patients from becoming high myopes.

"We also need to ensure our children receive a regular eye examination from an optometrist or ophthalmologist, preferably each year, so that preventative strategies can be employed if they are at risk," said co-author Professor Kovin Naidoo, CEO of Brien Holden Vision Institute, in a press statement. "These strategies may include increased time outdoors and reduced time spent on near based activities including electronic devices that require constant focussing up close”

In addition to increasing time outdoors and cutting back on our use of electronic gadgets, there are some eye exercises you can try. They’re designed to strengthen the eye muscles, improve focusing, and stimulate the vision center of the brain, according to WebMD.

Some of the exercises include:

  • covering one eye with your hand and looking at different objects continuously instead of staring at just one object

  • changing focus of both eyes from near to far and back to near

  • concentrating the eye on a solitary object

  • following a pattern with the eye to build vision muscles

The eye exercises may help, but the scientific proof of effectiveness is lacking. However, some doctors may still advise patients to give them a try.

The study researchers hope that the future holds other options “such as specially designed spectacle lenses and contact lenses or drug interventions,” Naidoo says. “But increased investment in research is needed to improve the efficacy and access of such interventions."

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