We know that ortho K lenses and low dose atropine (0.01%) both can slow down the rate of myopia progression by about 50%. People often wonder whether by combining the two, we can slow down the progression even further.
Here is an article looking at a combo of the two in 73 Chinese children who have very fast myopia progression. They discovered that additional atropine 0.01% did not result in significant difference compared with ortho K lens alone in terms of axial growth.
This is disappointing. However, this study looked at children with fast myopia progression despite using ortho K lenses. Also only a small number of children were evaluated. In addition, this is a retrospective study, meaning authors looked at the data later, rather than a randomized controlled study, so there could be factors stewing the results.
Anyway, we await more studies to see whether the two have synergistic effect.
Chen Z, Zhou J, Xue F, et al, Two-year add-on effect of using low concentration atropine in poor responders of orthokeratology in myopic children British Journal of Ophthalmology Published Online First: 11 March 2021. doi: 10.1136/bjophthalmol-2020-317980
Covid-19 has really affected so many aspects of our lives. With all that isolation inside, and the remote learning with digital screens, parents worry about their kids’ health. Many worry this will do great havoc to their eyesight, and they are not wrong.
Research has shown that confinement to home due to covid-19 is associated with an increase in myopia. Scientists have been monitoring the refractive error of 123 535 Chinese children since 2015. While the refractive error was showing a pretty steady trend in kids 6 to 8 years of age from 2015 to 2019, there was a sharp and dramatic change toward myopia in 2020 (Figure 1). Many Chinese children already don’t get enough outdoor activities and spend way too much time studying, and the covid-19 put extra strain in terms of even further decrease of outdoor time and increase of screen time.
Figure 1. Young children show a dramatic increase in myopia in 2020 compared to previous years . Figure from reference 
I only hope that with universal vaccination and a good hygiene habit that we have formed during the past year, children will be able to be back to school and enjoy normal outside activities soon. If you think you child may have trouble seeing, please bring them to an eye doctor.
 Wang J, Li Y, Musch DC, et al. Progression of Myopia in School-Aged Children After COVID-19 Home Confinement. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2021;139(3):293–300. doi:10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2020.6239
A friend who is a rehabilitation therapist in China told me some interesting observation he has had while treating myopic children. He noticed that for those children who are more anxious, their myopia progressed faster, versus those who are calmer. So he asked me whether anxiety and other psychological factors may contribute to myopia development and progression.
Now I know that when I was 10 and started becoming myopic, I had a lot of anxiety and depression, for the reason that I could not see the blackboard in class! Every school year we went to the hospital to have physical exam and the vision exam was the most anxiety-inducing. I would squint, guess, and peek at the tumbling E beforehand trying to memorize them. My face became red and my hands sweaty. Yes I am ashamed to admit that I cheated in the vision screening in elementary school to get away with a failed report to the teacher and my parents. Why did I do that? As a child I could not describe it exactly. But I did not want to wear glasses and became different from everyone else. Plus, as a straight A student, a failed test in any form was not acceptable.
More and more I found it difficult to see the board. I would nonchalantly walk up to the board then back to my seat (fortunately I sat in the middle so did not have to walk too long to disturb the other students). I would peek at my desk mate’s notes to see what’s going on. I became afraid of math classes because the numbers were small. Eventually I had to tell my parents that I had trouble seeing the board. I remember feeling ashamed when I had to tell them. It’s as though I contracted a disease that I should not have. Though the science at the time was not clear, at least to me, I knew that I was to blame for becoming near-sighted. I was always reading, day and night. Not necessarily school-related, but I was hooked by fictions, story books, magazines and newspapers, anything that had prints on them. Outside classroom, I would read on my own. During summer and winter vacation, I would still be reading books from the library. My dad who’s a teacher and scholar, was the role model that I took after. He did not stop my prolonged near work. My childhood home was very dark, with rather dim lighting. Plus my dad also had myopia though my mom had hyperopia. Thus odds were really against me and no surprise I was among the early ones in my class to wear glasses. That was in the early 1990s, at age 10 I developed myopia while majority of my classmates were still emmetropic. Today probably majority of kids in a 4th grade classroom are wearing glasses. Times have really changed.
I remember going to the hospital to have my eyes examined. The doctor put eye drops in my eyes, I had to wait for a long time, before someone put a strange-looking frame on my face and showed me a bunch of different lenses. I was asked to read letters on a chart, and I felt strange that I was able to see some tiny letters. I had to say that this cycloplegic trial frame refraction was up to American standard even to this day. Thanks to my small town ophthalmologist, I was finally able to see. I was -2.00 in both eyes that day and I no longer had to walk up to the board to see small prints.
Back to our question on myopia and anxiety. My own experience told me that as a myope without glasses, I definitely felt anxiety. After wearing glasses, my vision was back, but I felt a kind of depression because I had to rely on glasses and I hated having to glasses. I went through all 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I thought that if I looked far away long enough, my eyes would be back to normal. I was mad at myself for abusing my eyes without a break on those stupid books. I constantly regret it and promised I would trade in some years of my life in exchange for normal eyesight. I was depressed that I had to wear glasses and looked ugly. Eventually of course I accepted this imperfect aspect of me. After all, there were so many other things that were not perfect so why focus only on myopia?
As an optometrist, myopia is one of the most common conditions we treat. It’s so common we almost consider it ‘normal’, routine and benign. We rarely considered the psychological aspect of myopia, when in reality this condition hit children and adolescents, who are at a vulnerable age.
Now the science part of this article. Research has shown that myopic teenagers had more anxiety than their peers, and boys with myopia had more anxiety than girls with the same condition 1. However, personality profile and psychophysical stress do not seem to play a primary pathogenetic role in myopia 2. So that is good, you can feel tortured by the fact that you need thicker glasses, but the sadness alone does not make your eyesight worse.
Myopia has become a global epidemic, affecting kids of school age, sometimes as early as 6 or 7. Left untreated, myopia may progress 1 diopter each year, resulting in high myopia when kids become adults. Myopia is not just an inconvenience, it is an eye disease that significantly increases a person’s risk of developing retinal detachment and myopic macular degeneration, both can lead to blindness.
Naturally parents become concerned when their kids fail the vision screening at school and have to wear glasses to see well. As food is a key part of our health, many often wonder if food contributes to myopia development. For example, does eating sugar and refined carbohydrates increase myopia? Surely sugar is bad for your teeth and just bad for your health in general. Is it also to blame for myopia?
When I was a student at New England College of Optometry in Boston, we learned extensively on myopia, which is a major topic of interest for optometry. While many factors affect myopia, for example, genetics, prolonged near work, lack of outdoor activities, sugar intake was never mentioned as a factor to affect myopia. Yes diabetes can affect a person’s vision by making them temporarily more myopic or hyperopic, but that is reversible and after blood sugar levels are controlled, the eye returns to baseline refractive state. Most people, especially school aged children, do not have diabetes or constantly fluctuating sugar levels. So is there any evidence for a role of sugar in myopia that is not in context of diabetes?
It turns out not many studies have been done on this topic. In 1956, Gardiner proposed that carbohydrates and fats in the diet could cause myopia 1, but this hypothesis was discarded later in the scientific community. When this happens, it’s either because not enough research was done to support it, or that it did not hold water by subsequent research. In deed there was a scarce of literature on this topic. But one actually found that more sugar intake did not increase risk of developing myopia in children 2. This study in turn, found out that too much saturated fatty acid in the diet correlated with more myopia.
Most recently a French study evaluated 180 children aged 4-18 via questionnaire about their diet habits, and discovered that for girls, more sugar and refined carbohydrates correlated with more myopia, but in boys, this was actually the opposite, that is, when boys eat more sugar/carbs, they show less myopia development 3. This type of study has flaws in that it relies on questionnaire which can be highly subjective. In addition, many variables were not controlled, such as outdoor time, reading and screen time. Even if it’s to be trusted, the study like many epidemiological studies, evaluate a correlation, not causation. Besides, how do you interpret the data that sugar reduces myopia risks in boys? Would you recommend boys to eat more sugar and refined carbohydrates? I don’t think so.
In summary, little evidence exists to indicate sugar or refined carbs increase or decrease risks of myopia. Maybe this is just a factor that has not much to do with myopia. To advocate better oral hygiene and health, we certainly want children to control their intake of sugar and refined carbs, possibly for everyone really, not just kids. However, if you think that by eating less sugar you will not develop myopia, you are up the wrong tree.
People are often concerned about potential side effects or complications of wearing ortho K lenses. We previously discussed that corneal infection is a concern, but proper hygiene and care minimize this risk. It is a hard lens that touches on the cornea, will this have any effect on glaucoma or eye pressure of the eye? A colleague of mine recently saw an 18 year-old patient interested in ortho K for his myopia, who has a family history of glaucoma, and showing some questionable visual field finding himself. My colleague is worried about what ortho K may do to patient’s eye pressure and risk of glaucoma.
First of all, glaucoma is exceedingly uncommon among kids and young adults. Second, even if someone has glaucoma, it is not a contraindication for wearing ortho K lenses. Research has actually shown that wearing ortho K lenses overnight reduced eye pressure slightly [1, 2].
Of course, if you have glaucoma, you need to regularly see your glaucoma doctor to check eye pressure, health status of the optic nerve and visual field function, whether you wear any type of contact lens including ortho K lens or not. But people with or without glaucoma, if eligible for ortho K lenses, can certainly choose to wear them.
 M.R. Romano; A. Calossi; F. Romano; G. Ferraioli, Intra–Ocular Pressure After Overnight Orthokeratology, ARVO Annual Meeting Abstract, Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science May 2006, Vol.47, 2391
 Chang CJ, Yang HH, Chang CA, Wu R, Tsai HY. The influence of orthokeratology on intraocular pressure measurements. Semin Ophthalmol. 2013 Jul;28(4):210-5. doi: 10.3109/08820538.2013.768679. Epub 2013 Apr 29. PMID: 23627528.