If your teenage child has myopia (near-sightedness) or you suspect they might, they should regularly attend an eye exam. This is because myopia can progress quickly. Did you know that a myopic teenager’s prescription often changes at least twice a year? This can be quite alarming for patients and their parents.
One of the most frequent questions asked by parents is, “Is there anything that can be done to slow down the progression of myopia?” The good news is that there is. The same treatment, Ortho-K, also eliminates the need for glasses,which is good news for a lot of teens.
Correcting myopia is essential for avoiding eye strain, related fatigue and headaches, for safety, for being able to participate and learn in class, and for making everyday life much easier. However, many teens are reluctant to wear glasses. It might be because they feel self-conscious about them, or perhaps because they make it harder to participate in sports and everyday activities. Self-esteem can be affected.
Ortho-K is very often the solution for myopic teens. It addresses their near-sightedness and can even slow down its progression, and it prevents the need for glasses as well.
Here’s everything you need to know about Ortho-K.
What is Ortho-K?
Ortho-K, short for orthokeratology, is a non-surgical treatment. Patients wear specially designed lenses overnight and remove them in the morning. While the patient sleeps peacefully, these lenses gently reshape the eye’s front curvature. The cornea is slowly manipulated, which reduces the myopic refractive error (near-sightedness).
The effects are temporary, but last long enough for the patient to enjoy good vision at all distances the next day.
With Ortho-K, the aim is for the patient to have 20/20 vision, and this is usually possible as long as the patient wears their prescription regularly to maintain its effect. If, for some reason, a patient decides to stop Ortho-K lenses, the eye will return to its former shape.
Ortho-K lenses will usually suit teenagers with mild to moderate myopia (-0.75 to -5.00D) or with mild hyperopia or farsightedness, up to +3.00D. A specialist at a reputable ophthalmology clinic will confirm Ortho-K’s suitability for your child.
Ortho-K: The Practicalities
Ortho-K lenses should be worn every night. This is to maintain good vision short-term, but also to maximize the long-term benefits from the treatment. Patients and their parents need not worry about Ortho-K lenses affecting sleep, however. They are very comfortable.
Ortho-K lenses usually last around one year. Unlike glasses, they are difficult to lose or break because they are only worn overnight at home. Your teen should find it straightforward to handle Ortho-K lenses and they are low-risk. They should have no trouble as long as they practice good hygiene, as infection poses the biggest potential problem.
If you are interested in Ortho-K for your teenage child, you should visit your eye care practitioner to discuss suitability. Your child would need to visit the clinic for an eye exam and corneal mapping. A further appointment for fitting would be needed. At this point, you and your child would be taught how to use the lenses correctly and safely. After this, regular eye exams are still required as normal, to check comfort and progress.
Does Ortho-K help slow down the progression of myopia?
Aside from correcting vision in the short-term, there are long-term benefits to wearing Ortho-K lenses. Many rigorous scientific studies have made very positive links between the use of orthokeratology and a slowing in the progression of myopia.
Back in 2004, The Children’s Overnight Orthokeratology Investigation (COOKI) pilot study was conducted by Ohio State University. It clearly established the short-term benefits and safety of orthokeratology for young people.
A two-year randomized trial at Hong Kong Polytechnic University confirmed that Ortho-K can slow the progression of myopia. Their conclusion, published in 2012, was: “On average, subjects wearing Ortho-K lenses had a slower increase in axial elongation by 43% compared with that of subjects wearing single-vision glasses. Younger children tended to have faster axial elongation and may benefit from early Ortho-K treatment.”
More recently, a study by researchers in Taiwan looked at the effects of overnight orthokeratology on 66 school-age children over a 12-year follow-up period between 1998 and 2013. This was to confirm the long-term benefits of orthokeratology.
The findings of this study were published in 2017. The 31 boys and 35 girls aged between seven and 16 at treatment were compared with 36 children who did not receive orthokeratology treatment. When compared with this group, “[The] orthokeratology group had a significantly (p < 0.001) lower trend of refractive error change during the follow-up periods.” This led to the conclusion that “overnight orthokeratology was effective in slowing myopia progression over a twelve-year follow-up period.”
Aside from avoiding frequent and unwanted changes in prescription, it is important to slow down myopia wherever possible. Childhood myopia has been associated with an increased risk of serious eye problems in adulthood, including retinal detachment. Ortho-K treatment may help reduce some of these risks for your child, which is why your clinician may recommend it for myopia control.
What are the other benefits of Ortho-K?
Ortho-K is a popular prescription with teenage patients for other reasons, too:
Ortho-K is non-surgical and low-risk
Vision correction surgery is not usually performed on young patients until the teen is at least 18 years old. Ortho-K treatment can commence much earlier. It is also a low-risk and painless option.
There is a very small risk that patients may experience glare and halos which usually diminish over time. There is a similar risk factor in LASIK surgery, which is frequently used as a surgical correction for myopia.
No other vision correction method is needed
When your teen is wearing their Ortho-K lenses overnight, every night, they will not need glasses or daytime contact lenses. This is great news for teens who dislike their glasses.
Ortho-K is easy
Most teenage patients have no trouble at all maintaining a routine with Ortho-K. It just takes a few moments right before bed and first thing in the morning to insert and remove them.
When the ease and convenience of Ortho-K are considered alongside its low risks and long-term benefits, most teens and their parents decide it looks like a very attractive option.
Dr. Millicent M. Grim, Specialist Ophthalmologist & LASIK Specialist, is the Medical Director of Gulf Eye Center in Dubai. Since 2002, Gulf Eye Center’s highly qualified ophthalmologists and optometrists/ODs have been successfully treating a wide range of eye conditions using advanced techniques. They also provide comprehensive eye care and vision restoration procedures for people of all ages.