Children are being diagnosed with myopia—or short-sightedness—at rapidly increasing rates with almost half of Australian parents unaware of its causes, a new report has revealed.

The rise in the common condition has been labelled a “looming public health crisis” by the Australia and New Zealand Child Myopia Working Group, following a survey of more than 1,000 Australian parents with children at home and aged under 18 years.

Nearly half, or 49 percent, of parents said they don’t know what causes the condition and 91 percent were not aware of the role of excessive screen time in myopia’s onset.

The survey results, published on May 13, were contained in CooperVision’s report titled The Australia and New Zealand Child Myopia Report—A Focus on Future Management, which aims to highlight the importance of tackling increasing rates.

What is Myopia?

Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, causes blurred distance vision. It is estimated that half the world’s population, including 50 percent of Australians, will have myopia by 2050, and 10 percent will have high myopia.

Luke Arundel, Optometry Australia’s Chief Clinical Officer, says the increase is due to lifestyle factors such as low levels of outdoor activity combined with low levels of light exposure and increased use of portable screens and devices.

“A lot of the research is suggesting that a couple of hours of sun safe time outside every day can be helpful in delaying the onset,” said the optometrist, who is a member of the Working Group.

“This isn’t just about kids wearing glasses,” he said. “We’re trying to alert the public, parents and patients, that with high myopia there comes significant risks, including permanent blindness.”

A ‘Wake-Up Call’

Myopia is a progressive condition and the earlier it starts the greater a child’s chance of developing high myopia, which increases the risk of comorbidities such as cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment, and myopic macular degeneration.

The condition is set to become a leading cause of permanent blindness worldwide, the report states.

One reason for the rising rates of high myopia is the decreasing age at which people first become short-sighted—beginning at eight years of age in 2000, compared to 11 years in 1983, according to the report.

Yet the recent survey shows 31 percent of Australian children have never been to the optometrist to have an eye test, which Arundel said should be part of routine appointments like going to the dentist.

“The survey is a bit of a wake-up call for us, we need to be trying harder to get the message out there,” Arundel told AAP. “It affects school performance, learning, coordination, sports, social life.”

Now parents have options because new technology can actually help slow the progression of myopia—unlike a traditional pair of single vision glasses, which simply helps a child see until they need a stronger pair, he said.

Parents can request a management plan, and specially designed glasses or contacts, from their optometrist.

Another treatment option includes a medicated eye drop, used once a day, Arundel said.

For more information for parents, please see:

For more information for optometrists, please see:

By Gemma Najem. Epoch Times staff contributed to this report.

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