Local, News, Optometry, Research

New research debunks belief myopia develops and worsens only during childhood

A new Australian research article published in JAMA Ophthalmology has found that more than a third of young adults may experience a “myopic shift” in at least one eye after the age of 20.

The article, co-authored by Dr Samantha Sze-Yee Lee, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Lions Eye Institute in Perth, suggests regular eye checks are essential in young adulthood – those in their 20s – to detect the onset and progression of myopia, which could increase a person’s risk of vision-related complications later in life.

Dr Samantha Sze-Yee Lee, Lions Eye Institute.

It was previously thought that myopia stabilises in children by their mid-teens.

Lee said her team’s research signifies the importance of getting a regular eye test.

“We used to think that myopia, or short-sightedness, starts to develop and worsen only during childhood,” she said.

“However, our study reports that about 14% of people who do not have myopia at age 20 go on to develop it by age 28. Additionally, myopia continues to worsen in about one-third of young adults in their third decade of life.”

The team also discovered that women are much more likely to have myopia onset or progress than men.

“Women are at 80% higher risk of myopia onset in their third decade of life and have about twice the rate of myopia progression compared to men,” Lee said.

It is unclear why this is the case, although Lee and the team speculate that environmental factors, such as women’s tendency to work more in indoor-based occupations, may explain this difference.

Lee said more research is needed to understand the reasons behind myopia progression in young adults.

“There is limited data available on the development of myopia in young adults, and our research is one of the first studies to explore this cohort,” she said.

“We know having parents with myopia increases the risk and rate of progression, however most myopia studies have focused on children, or specific populations.”

Lee’s previous research on driver licencing vision requirements, published in Clinical & Experimental Ophthalmology in 2020, shows that there is a high rate of uncorrected or under corrected myopia in young licensed drivers (15% of 20-year-olds).

Lee is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Lions Eye Institute and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, University of Western Australia.

Her current area of research includes ophthalmic epidemiology and genetics, with a focus on myopia and glaucoma.

In 2021, Lee was awarded the Raine Medical Research Foundation’s 2021 Strachan Memorial Prize for the best published research by an early-career clinical researcher.

This is the first time since the Raine Medical Research Foundation started the awards in 2011 that a publication prize has gone to an ophthalmology researcher.

Lee’s previous accolades include being awarded outstanding oral presentation at the Raine Study Annual Scientific Meeting in Perth in 2018 and 2020, and the outstanding abstract award at the World Ophthalmology Congress in Barcelona, Spain in 2018.

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