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Nearsightedness among young people is increasing exponentially

Frank McKenna
Myopia rates will continue to increase for years to come, says Dr. Jennifer Qayum of Children's Mercy hospital in Kansas City.

The rate of myopia, or nearsightedness, among young people worldwide is growing at a dramatic rate. There are several theories about why this is happening.

Nearsightedness has become an increasingly common health problem in recent decades. Dr. Jennifer Qayum, a pediatric optometrist at Kansas City's Children's Mercy hospital, says it is even more prevalent among young people.

"We're seeing it rise to 30, 40% of the population where it used to be in the 10s," Qayum explains. "So, it's definitely increased significantly over the last couple of decades."

Those numbers represent myopia rates in the United States. Qayum says East Asia and Southeast Asia are seeing "astronomical" rates — in around 90% of the population — which she attributes to high scholastic workloads in those cultures.

While genetics play a role in myopia, there is also an environmental factor that may be playing a role in recent spikes.

"We're seeing more time spent indoors, more time spent on screens, and more time spent reading and doing near activities," Qayum says.

In later years of life, long-term health outcomes resulting from myopia can include eye diseases such as glaucoma, retinal detachment and myopic maculopathy.

Qayum joined KCUR's Up to Date to discuss why myopia is becoming so common and what can be done about it.

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