Researchers at Australia's Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are getting ready to test a pair contacts that could reverse symptoms of nearsightedness (aka myopia). If these contacts are proven to be effective, they could dramatically reduce the risk of myopic patients developing serious diseases later in life.
The main reason myopia patients have a higher risk of developing sight-robbing diseases has to do with the way the eyes' lenses stretch over time. Studies have found that children with myopia have a heightened risk of developing diseases like glaucoma and cataracts later in life.
The new lenses developed at QUT are different from normal contacts because they have varying optical strengths for different parts of the eye. Most normal contacts are designed to give a wearer clear vision all around the lens.
QUT's lenses are also able to provide a good source of light into the wearer's retina. Studies have shown that a lack of exposure to sunlight is a major contributor to the rapid rise in childhood myopia cases. One study out of QUT found that the eyes of myopic children who didn't get sunlight grew 50 percent faster than children exposed to regular sunlight.
Professor Michael Collins, who teaches in QUT's School of Optometry, is the lead researcher on this project. Although there's no set release date as of today, Professor Collins says these lenses should be available within two to three years.
Besides lack of sunlight, a few other contributing factors to the growing number of myopic patients include electronic screen usage, nutrient-deficient diets, and air pollution.
While myopia cases are rising all over the world, the "myopia epidemic" is hitting Asian nations the hardest. Upwards of 80 percent of schoolchildren in nations like China, Japan, and Taiwan wear contacts or glasses for nearsightedness. There's no clear reason why Asians have a higher rate of developing myopia, but it might have to do with genetics, increased air pollution, and longer use of electronic screens.
Due to this myopia boom, eye doctors recommend parents send their children in for a visual exam as early as possible. Early warning signs of myopia in a child include headaches, complaints of blurred vision, and frequent squinting.
Children who have unaddressed myopia often suffer academically and socially at school. Myopia children who don't get early treatment also have a higher risk of developing mental disorders like depression and anxiety.
In addition to getting more natural sunlight, doctors recommend children with myopia eat a diet rich in vitamin A, vitamin D3, and omega-3 fatty acids. A few great foods for eye health include carrots, salmon, kale, and sardines.
Parents should try their best to limit the amount of time their child spends on electronic screens. The longer kids spend staring at screens, the higher the risk they will develop eye disorders.
Founded in 1989, QUT has two campuses in the city of Brisbane. There are currently almost 50,000 students and is officially classified as a public research university.