When myopia starts to become a problem
For many people, the major problem associated with myopia is trying to remember where they left their glasses. You put them down to do close work on the computer or to read, and then when you need the help of your corrective lenses to watch television or play sport, they aren’t where you remember leaving them.
However, whilst misplacement of glasses might be the major problem for those diagnosed with myopia and up to date corrective lenses, the situation is far different for others. Children with undiagnosed myopia may well be struggling at school, unable to see the whiteboard, or perhaps finding sports challenging. Ultimately, they may start falling behind, developing behavioural problems or becoming isolated from their peers.
Eyestrain may also result in repeating headaches which could cause children to miss school time. And unless and until myopia is diagnosed, their condition may rapidly worsen, leaving them with a lifelong level of myopia which could have been lessened with early treatment. That is why regular eye check-ups are so important in childhood. The sooner that a developing problem can be identified, the greater the chance of taking steps to put appropriate management plans in place.
Adults with uncorrected myopia may also find that their ability to carry out their job is impacted by an inability to see distant objects clearly. In addition, blurred distance vision can lead to problems with identifying potential driving hazards, particularly at night. It is worth remembering that driving with significant uncorrected eyesight problems may be illegal and could lead to a fine, penalty points, or even disqualification from driving. So if you can’t read a number plate from twenty meters away, it is time to get an eye test and corrective lenses.
Unfortunately, as with other areas in the human anatomy, the existence of myopia can eventually lead to other eye problems. In general, these are more likely to occur when an individual has high myopia, defined as needing corrective lenses of a strength equal to or greater than -6 dioptres of refractive power. However, myopia at any level can lead to an increased risk of certain conditions, with the higher the level of myopia equating to a higher risk.
It is important to stress that those with myopia may not go on to develop further eye problems and that in later life, eye problems are not confined to those who previously had been identified with myopia. Nevertheless, it is perhaps worth looking at a few potential complications of myopia, primarily to raise awareness of what changes to look out for and when a quick visit to an optometrist may be a ‘sight saver.’ With this in mind, let’s start with retinal detachment. Even those with low levels of myopia are three times more likely to suffer from retinal detachment, with the multiple increasing depending on the severity of the myopia.  The reason for this is simple. Myopia arises typically when the eyeball is longer than normal; this puts a strain on the retina, stretching it out and leaving it prone to tears or at risk of detachment.
Warning signs include a sudden increase in the number of ‘floaters’ in your eyesight, flashes of light, or a shadow floating across your vision. When these occur, it is advisable to arrange an urgent eye check-up.
It has to be said that these symptoms can also arise following vitreous detachment , a fairly normal part of the ageing process, which generally arises after the age of fifty. However, it is wise not to assume that floaters are a result of vitreous detachment rather than retinal tear, as the quicker that a tear is identified, the better the chance of being able to save someone’s sight.
Macular Degeneration is another area which carries an increased risk for those with myopia. Essentially, ongoing myopia can either cause cells in the retina's centre to die or cause cracks to appear in the layers under the retina. Myopic macular degeneration (MMD) can lead to a blind spot developing in the centre of the vision.  For some, finding a blind spot in vision when reading or watching television might be the first sign that they are developing MMD, although it can be identified at an earlier stage via regular eye examinations.
Glaucoma, which is characterised by optic nerve damage, is another condition which appears to be more prevalent in those with high myopia. Glaucoma accounts for one in every ten instances of blindness in the UK. Treatments for glaucoma, which look to reduce the pressure within the eye, are available, but the sooner the condition is detected, the greater the chance of successful treatment.
Myopia is a growing problem across the world and will continue to be so with more children being diagnosed in primary school. For many, the need to wear corrective lenses and to undertake regular eye examinations may well be all that is required to manage their myopia on an ongoing basis. But as can be seen above, the greater the level of myopia, the greater the chance of developing other eye conditions in due course. That is why early diagnosis and regular reviews are so important, helping to minimise the development of the condition and catch any potential complications as early as possible.
To raise awareness of the condition, Myopia Focus has launched a change.org campaign to get the NHS to recognise myopia as an ocular disease and fund myopia management for all children; you can support the campaign by signing this petition.
At Occuity we are currently in the research and development phase of the AX1, an axial length biometer that will be capable of directly measuring axial length to provide optometrists with a superb solution to accurately monitor the progression of myopia.