Thursday, August 31, 2023

Setting sights on a clearer future: Navigating the challenges of childhood Myopia


August is National Eye Health Awareness Month, and Cardinal Santos Medical Center (CSMC) is shining a focus on pediatric myopia, which has arisen as a major public health concern.

Myopia is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a refractive error in which light rays entering the eye parallel to the optic axis are brought to focus in front of the retina, resulting in blurred images.

I am myopic myself which means I am as blind as a bat or nearsighted. So I can relate well to this issue and I'm sure most of you will also be able to feel the same way especially if you're in your 40's. You see, when one gets older, we become nearsighted. 

 Dr. Kimberly Cotaoco, a Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus expert at Cardinal Santos, explains it as seeing close items clearly but distant objects fuzzy.

While myopia affects both adults and children, she emphasizes the importance of being diagnosed at an early age. “Due to their highly developing eyes, the progression of myopia in children can lead to long-term consequences such as lazy eye, strabismus, and a range of ocular diseases.”

Childhood myopia is becoming more common, impacting 85-90% of young people in some Asian countries. Dr. Cotaoco emphasizes the importance of genetics and environmental variables in the development of myopia. that children with myopic parents are more likely to develop it themselves. She also cites early gadget exposure, decreased outdoor time, and increasingly exacting academic expectations for children as contributors.

Recognizing Myopia in Children

Parents should be vigilant for signs in young children as they may not be able to accurately express their experience with blurry vision. According to Dr. Cotaoco, “Signs and symptoms may be subtle - ranging from squinting (narrowing of the eyes to see better), going very close to the blackboard, lack of confidence in school and frequent mistakes when copying, and presence of strabismus (misalignment of the eyes). In these cases, pre-school screening is essential, and the feedback from their educators is most valuable.”

The early detection of childhood myopia is so essential that Republic Act 11358, also known as the National Vision Screening Act, was enacted in 2019 with the intention of screening the kindergarten-age group for possible errors of refraction.

Encouraging kids to take an active role in their treatment

Dr. Cotaoco believes that it is critical for children to participate in their treatment. "Most kids nowadays are very involved in their treatments, and we discuss with them what works and what doesn't," she explains.

What activities they can consider doing in can help them comprehend their condition better."
It's not only the children. Parents and guardians must also keep an eye on their children to see if they exhibit any of the symptoms of myopia. Dr. Cotaoco, as an ophthalmologist, also ensures that she spends ample time with the adults as she does with the children, not just explaining, but also actively listening to their queries. In addition, she emphasizes the importance of follow-ups and consistency with treatment.

Developing healthy habits for better eyesight

The use of gadgets has become an integral part of daily life, more so with children who are exposed to them at an earlier age. Dr. Cotaoco advises providing other positive experiences to lessen kids’ exposure to screens. “More than setting a time limit for screen time, I think it is more important to encourage alternative activities, especially those that involve outdoor play.” She also adds, “Exposure to natural sunlight, is recommended, and found to have a protective effect. No exact guidelines have been released, but results from clinical trials are very promising.”

Rewarding results

In over eight years of practice, Dr. Cotaoco still gets a special feeling every time one of her patients responds positively to treatment. She shares, “The sheer joy of a child seeing clearly after wearing prescription spectacles, is truly fulfilling for me. Being able to give sight, and seeing them grow in confidence, is worthwhile.”

Along with the rest of the ophthalmology department at Cardinal Santos, she stresses the need to be steadfast in providing children’s eye health. “Our role as ophthalmologists is to never tire in providing the platform to screen and detect preventable eye diseases such as errors of refraction. We also need to be constantly updated to the new treatment modalities and offer what is sound and based on evidence.

The Outpatient Department of Cardinal Santos Medical Center has dedicated ophthalmology clinics staffed by qualified residents-in-training and led by its fellow in Pediatric Ophthalmology.

They screen younger children, do proper refraction, an in-depth ophthalmologic evaluation, and give the resources needed for the patient's treatment. The hospital's newly renovated Eye Center now offers complete screening, refraction, and treatment for childhood myopia, ensuring that young patients receive the best possible care.

Dr. Kimberly Cotaoco's insights give a compass for parents and guardians in an age of technological growth, allowing them to navigate the landscape of childhood myopia with knowledge and consideration. Children's vision can be protected by early detection, timely intervention, and nurturing healthy behaviors, promoting a future of clear vision and brilliant prospects.

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