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Why the Chinese are myopic?

| On 31, Jan 2015

Who: Alan Saks, optometrist, lecturer, writer and former owner & director of Barry+Beale Optometrists and Vigil Eyewear

By age 20, 70 to 90 percent of Asians are myopic. Not so surprising you think since the myopic must be mainly city folk straining their eyes on desk work and mobile devices. Well, explain this – in urban societies like London and New York, only about 30 percent of the population suffer from myopia.

Why the Chinese are myopic

Countries where the incidence of myopia within the population is very high include Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China. So, are the Chinese genetically predisposed toward developing short-sightedness?

Alan Saks: “There are genetic predispositions where certain races, such as the Jews and Chinese, have a greater tendency to develop myopia as compared to the other races.” One reason is because Jewish and Chinese people were among the earliest to read and write, and these activities do put some strain on one’s visual system. The Chinese have been reading and writing intricate Chinese characters for well over 5000 years and over the generations gradually gravitated toward a genetic predisposition for myopia. There are genetic, environmental, functional, structural and chemical changes that lead to this. If you have myopia, your children will be statistically more likely to become myopic, too.

With all these factors, coupled with our city habits of hibernating indoors to watch television or use the laptop, even on bright Saturday mornings, it is no wonder that so many people living in Singapore – which has a large Chinese population – have myopia to some degree. Some research suggest that exposure to natural light may also help prevent myopia.

Watching for Myopia

Just like how teenage acne affects more than just a teenager’s face, being myopic can be a lot more than simply inconvenient for a growing child. Dr Saks notes that short-sighted youngsters can become a lot more introverted, and their world smaller and narrower. Parents, do your part by checking

  1. Begin to look out for any signs of blurred vision from the time your child is a toddler. When driving, point out things at a distance and ask if they can see those things. When they can recognize numbers and letters, begin conducting impromptu eye tests along the way. Ask them if they can tell you the number off the road sign a hundred metres in front, or whether they can read the sentence from that advertisement fifty metres away.
  2. Bring your child for a proper eye examination by the time he or she turns 5.
  3. In consultation with your optometrist, choose the most appropriate visual correction aid for him. If he is more active, enjoys playing sports or is shy, choose fitting him with contact lenses, especially those with ‘no lens’ sensation and daily disposables which can enable him to have a more confident and worry-free time.
  4. Studying is good, but too much of a good thing can be less than idyllic. In a fast-paced society like ours, parents invariably want their offspring to become scholars, but less pressure on them at the study table will be less pressure on their eyes, too.

Dr. Alan Saks from Auckland, New Zealand shared his views when he was in Singapore in 2013 as a keynote speaker in a Contact Lens symposium, jointly held by Johnson & Johnson Vision Care and Singapore Optometric Association.

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