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Body + BrainBody & Brain

Reshaping Eyeballs Temporarily Fixes Nearsightedness

ByBridget MorawskiNOVA NextNOVA Next

If you’re like 40% of Americans, you could probably stand to have your eyeballs reshaped.

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Myopia—also known as nearsightedness—happens when a person’s eyeball is too long or their cornea is too curved. Glasses and contacts are a common fix, but ophthalmologists have been working on a new option—contacts that temporarily reshape a wearer’s eyeballs.

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Some ophthalmologists think a new treatment could help temporarily reverse myopia.

New developments are allowing children who suffer from myopia to temporarily transform their the eyes by wearing specialized contact lenses overnight, a process known as orthokeratology or ortho-k. Wearers can pop out the lenses in the morning and their eyeballs retain their corrected shape throughout the next day, according to the American Optometric Association.

Since the 1970s there has been a 16.6% increase in the occurrence of myopia in people between the ages of 12 and 54 years, according to a study by researchers from the National Eye Institute, a diviosn of the NIH. The root cause behind the uptick in cases of nearsightedness is unknown, though researchers point to the rigors of school and the increased usage of small, personal electronic devices with bright screens as a potential contributor. Here’s Sindya N. Bhanoo with the New York Times:

“It can’t be entirely genetic, because genes don’t change that fast,” said Susan Vitale, an epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health who studies myopia. “It’s probably something that’s environmental, or a combination of genetic and environmental factors.”

Though ophthalmologists have long used contact lenses and eyeglasses to correct the effects of myopia, the prospects for ortho-k are still up in the air. Experts are concerned that there may be a high risk of infection among children who wear the overnight lenses since they may not always take proper care of them, causing bacterial build up.

But if the wearer can follow doctor’s orders to the letter, then ortho-k could not only correct their vision for the next day, it may also slow the rate at which their eyesight degrades, though some ophthalmologists remain skeptical.

No one knows for certain whether children who go through ortho-k treatment end up with better vision in adulthood. To date, no studies have been conducted that followed children prescribed ortho-k into adulthood. For now, there is one preventative measure parents can take to ward off myopia in their children—reduce their time with personal electronic devices and tell them to play outside.

Photo credit: Nomadic Lass

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