By Michael Hutton
Ortho-k lenses worn only while sleeping may provide the solution to arresting the trend of high myopia amongst China's youth which is reaching epidemic proportions based on the evidence of a major new study undertaken by China's Education Ministry. The study involved a survey of approximately 350,000 young Chinese across thirty-one provinces and regions and it yielded dramatic results which suggest that a significant proportion of the country's population may encounter serious vision problems or even complete loss of sight in later life. Almost 41 per cent of primary school children now need spectacles, a 9.2 per cent rise from the last study undertaken in 2005 and this prevalence rises to 67 per cent of middle school students and then to a remarkable 85 per cent of university students.
To date, the standard response in China when a young person is diagnosed as being shortsighted (ie myopic) has been to prescribe glasses but it is now recognised that this simply provides temporary correction of the problem. Glasses do not prevent the young person's myopia from worsening which is where the new ortho-k lenses could offer an important treatment breakthrough. These customised contact lenses are designed to address the specific prescription of each individual person and work by gently flattening the surface of the eye during sleep to ensure that light focuses directly on the cornea rather than in front of it. After the lenses are removed each morning, the wearer enjoys perfect eyesight all daylong until the lenses are reinserted at night.
More importantly, a wide range of clinical research studies have shown that ortho-k lenses not only provide full correction of a young person's shortsightedness, they also prevent the myopia from getting any worse by acting almost like a dental brace in restraining the eye elongation that would otherwise occur. It is this latter aspect of eye development which explains why young Chinese see their shortsight prescription continuing to worsen through adolescence. However, whilst ethnic Chinese appear to be predisposed genetically to myopia - with the majority of young Chinese living in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore also needing glasses - researchers have shown that the environment plays a significant role in a population's general level of short-sightedness.
"When I was in primary school in the 1970s, no-one wore glasses but we did not have televisions or computers and we spent our time playing outside," said Ren Weibing, the head of Geni Base, an agency that advises Chinese parents on how to avoid problems with their children's eyesight. He adds: "Today, children spend a prolonged amount of time staring at things at close distance. The lighting in classrooms is also not good, there is too much homework, and there are limited options in cities for how they can spend their spare time. Most of the time they stay indoors." This link between shortsightedness and greater levels of urbanisation and education which has also been highlighted by research studies is another reason why ortho-k lenses may provide the best solution for myopic youngsters in China.
Check if you are suitable for ortho-k lenses for correcting shortsightedness overnight.