What if we all became myopic? After Asia, myopia is developing quietly in all developed countries and could affect half the world’s population in 30 years, 10% of which very severely, warn experts who are calling for it to be made a public health issue.
This vision disorder is linked to an excessive elongation of the eye (a distance between the cornea and the retina that is too great) which leads to blurred vision beyond a certain distance. When it is strong, beyond -6.00 diopter, it is a disease which increases the risk of various damages (retinal detachment, glaucoma, early cataract…) which can permanently alter sight.
More and more myopic children
“Today, 40% of the population is myopic, with 5 to 10% of strong myopes”, warned Thursday during a press conference Ramin Tadayoni, head of the ophthalmology department at the Adolphe de Rothschild Foundation Hospital. , in Paris. “These two proportions are increasing and, above all, there are more and more myopic children,” he noted.
According to current projections, in 2050 half of the world’s population will be myopic.
Until now, cases seemed to be exploding especially in Asia. A publication in The Lancet ten years ago put the prevalence of this vision disorder among young Asians at almost 90%. In Japan, China or South Korea, nine out of ten students wear glasses. “We have a fifteen-year gap with Asia,” said Ramin Tadayoni.
Why such an increase in myopia?
How to explain such a progression in the developed countries? Genetic and hereditary factors exist: the presence of myopia in one of the parents would double the risk for their children.
But the environment seems to play a crucial role in the development and worsening of myopia. Researchers agree on the fact that it is favored by the increase in time spent indoors, the lack of exposure to natural light or even excessive solicitation of near vision.
With a city lifestyle, the risk of being nearsighted is “maximum”, pointed out Gilles Martin, ophthalmologist at the Adolphe de Rothschild Foundation Hospital.
Treatments still uncertain
Faced with this observation, several treatments or medical devices aimed at preventing or slowing down the progression of myopia are available. Among them, atropine-based eye drops, nocturnal or daytime contact lenses that reshape the cornea or even glasses fitted with lenses that inhibit myopia.
But these solutions are more or less expensive or accessible and there are still many unknowns about their long-term effectiveness.
“Refractive” surgery can also improve visual comfort by reshaping or “planing” the cornea, without however eliminating the risks associated with high myopia.
Outdoor activities, the best prevention
“The best prevention in children remains to favor outdoor activities, to reduce prolonged activities in near vision, and to carry out regular screenings”, advocated Gilles Martin.
Thus, among children practicing more than 14 hours of outdoor sport per week, the risk of developing myopia becomes the same regardless of family history, he detailed. Two hours a day of outdoor light exposure reduces the risk by three.
Ophthalmologists now want awareness: “We need a public health policy” on this issue, argued Ramin Tadayoni, announcing the creation in 2023 of an “Institute of myopia”. Several Asian countries, including Singapore and China, have paved the way by setting up centers exclusively dedicated to medical care and research on pathological myopia.
In France, the Institute will be backed by a patient association intended to avoid “therapeutic wandering”. Its founder, Cédric Thein, 49, myopic since the age of six, who then suffered several retinal detachments, hopes to provide patients with a space for speaking and information. But also create the opportunity to integrate research protocols to benefit from innovations as quickly as possible. “In France, few works specifically concern myopia, making this disease sometimes less well known and supported than certain rare diseases”, regrets Ramin Tadayoni.