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Myopia: short-sightedness in children

Written by: Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor
Published: | Updated: 29/11/2019
Edited by: Bronwen Griffiths

What is myopia?

Myopia, which is also known as short-sightedness, is a condition in which the eyes have trouble focusing and objects far away appear blurry. Myopia is easily dealt with and can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor, a leading ophthalmologist, explains how myopia is detected, specifically in younger children. 

Short-sightedness in children

How common is myopia in children?

Short-sightedness is not uncommon in children and usually appears in children from the age of eight years. However, myopia can appear in younger children as well. Myopia will usually stop getting worse in teenage and early adult years, between 17 and 25. In children aged 12-13 years myopia has increased from affecting 7% in the 1960s to over 16% in 2016.

Why do children develop myopia?

There are two major contributors to children becoming short-sighted, which are genetics and the reduced amount of time children spend outdoors. Myopia runs in families, and if one or both parents are short-sighted, then it is more likely that their children will be short-sighted as well.

Although it is not entirely clear why time spent outdoors affects the likelihood of myopia developing in children, some scientists think that exposure to sunlight increases the amount of dopamine in the retina which slows down eye growth. As children depend more and more on using screens and displays, both for entertainment and education, they spend less time outdoors in the sunlight.

How does myopia develop?

During childhood your eyes usually grow until about ages 12-13. However, in some children the eyeball continues to grow, meaning the length of your eyeball becomes a bit too long for the strength of the crystalline lens. As a result, objects further away appear blurry. Light is focused in front of the retina, creating blurred vision. It is like a cinema projector placed too far from the screen: the film would appear blurred. Myopia can often present or progress when children have a growth spurt.

Signs of myopia in children include:

  • Sitting close to the television and holding books and magazines close to the face
  • Sitting at the front of the classroom to see the whiteboard better

What is the best way to reduce the likelihood of myopia developing in children?

Parents should encourage children to spend 1-2 hours a day outside and to reduce the amount of time looking at screens or books. Limiting screen time is not always feasible, but being aware of balancing it with time spent outside is key.


If you would like to find out more, make an appointment with a specialist.

By Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor

Dr Annegret Dahlmann-Noor is the director of the children's eye service at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, the largest children's eye care facility in the Western World. She is also Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the prestigious University College London, one of the top universities worldwide.

After receiving her medical training in France and Germany, Dr Dahlmann-Noor specialised as an ophthalmologist, working across a number of leading hospitals in the United Kingdom. 

Dr Dahlmann-Noor specialises in eye problems in children, as well as amblyopia, blepharitis and eye surface inflammation in adults. Her current research focuses on new treatments for lazy eye and short eyesightness (myopia).

Additionally, Dr Dahlmann-Noor is a member of a number of renowned medical bodies, including the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. 

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