Bad Vision For New Generations?
By Dr. Rigoberto Rios
In my profession I am faced daily with a wide range of diseases of the eye that are mostly from a genetic load, or the accumulation of oxidation produced by ageing, our food and habits of life. In recent years we have asked ourselves in the scientific community what factors are we, as a society, promoting that could be increasing the diseases of our population? This is one of those occasions that I want to share with you.
At the recent Euroretina Congress in Barcelona a study was presented called “Myopia a Global Epidemic?” For some years now, data on the increase of visual disturbances in Asian countries, particularly in China, have been presented. As this work has gathered more and more information the data has become stronger and should help to guide our behavior as we develop our children.
Myopia is an alteration of the eye in which the image projected towards the retina is integrated behind it, resulting in poor distant vision, and the need for lenses to correct this visual defect.
As a society, we are accustomed to the use of lenses and regard it as normal in some proportion of the population. But in some parts of the world, 80% of the population is using lenses and, as the tip of a spear, this proportion could spread to other regions. China is probably not happy to be at the head of this experience.
What is going on? The answer is that we do not know exactly, but we have a very good idea. The first thing we must understand is how our world has changed too much and too fast, and has not allowed for a sufficient adaptation of our bodies to these changes.
It seems that exposing children at very young ages (under 8 years old) to intensive systems of study, sedentary habits and use of electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets and computers leads to excessive use of the visual system to objects at close range, with the ensuing development of myopia and the need for lenses.
In past years some authors had called sporadic cases “heavy readers” referring to some children who at an early age spent many hours reading books and apparently developed more myopia than those with minor reading habits.
The problem and the reason for talking about it is that this disease (Myopia) is being generated by intensive education systems, shifting a large proportion of the population towards myopia. The educational systems in some countries have increased school hours with intensive study programs leading to a pandemic of visual impairments not previously seen, in order to achieve much higher school goals through the accumulation of knowledge, to obtain scholarships and economic support, and eventually better job performance that results in a higher quality of life. In the end, it is very likely society is moving away from its ultimate goal, and the quality of life as a society is actually diminishing.
Another reason for this change is the decrease in outdoor activities among modern children. In outdoor games and sports we use our distant vision much more, stimulating our eyes to focus on objects in the distance. If we are exclusively in an environment where the focus is on near vision, we do not experience the counter-balancing stimulation of distant vision, thus generating myopia.
The problem does not end there. Some might think that we have alternatives such as lenses and laser surgery that are highly effective in the correction of this disease. However, 2-4% of these patients present a pathological myopia with more than 4 diopters, eyes of larger size that would generate a condition called myopic maculopathy or retinal detachment among other conditions, with devastating results for the patients’ vision.
The amazing and marvelous capacity we have for modifying our environment and life system has been demonstrated throughout history, but often without responsibility for “collateral damage” and with a very short-term perspective. At the same time, we are capable of making the necessary changes to continue to improve while minimizing or avoiding negative consequences, and achieve the ultimate goal that we chase after, the welfare and happiness of society and its harmony with the world.
Examples like the diseases that our modern lifestyle generate, are a good way to realize what happens and initiate the fundamental changes to avoid more damages. In our case as western countries where the damage in this particular situation is still minor, we can learn from the experience of others and take preventive action.