New UC Berkeley eye clinic will target nearsightedness

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A UC Berkeley eye clinic aimed at stopping the progression of nearsightedness in children is scheduled to open Sept. 8.

According to research from the UC Berkeley Optometry clinic, nearsightedness, also known as myopia, is no longer considered to be caused only by genetics but also by the use of electronic devices for extended periods of time.

“It is connected with the amount of time we spend indoors playing with gadgets and reading and working with computers,” said Christine Wildsoet, a UC Berkeley professor of optometry and vision science. “In countries where people spend more time outdoors, there are lower levels of myopia.”

Children are at a higher risk of myopia because their eyes are still developing, according to Maria Liu, an assistant professor of clinical optometry and vision science at the School of Optometry who will run the clinic.

Severe nearsightedness appeared twice as often among young adults than among the elderly, according to a study funded by the National Eye Institute.

Wildsoet said a person’s eyes lack the ability to focus properly when he or she looks at objects in close proximity, as is the case with electronic devices. To accommodate for extended periods of time looking at objects in close proximity, one’s eyeballs can increase in length.

The lengthening of the eyeballs causes abnormal blood vessel growth, which can lead to irreversible damage to the eyes, such as retinal detachment or tears, damage to the optic nerve and cataracts, Liu said. Irreversible vision loss may occur when a high stage of nearsightedness is reached.

In highly industrialized countries, rates of nearsightedness have skyrocketed. According to Wildsoet, children in the United States tend to show symptoms of myopia about ages 5 or 6. If a child receives intervention early on, treatment can potentially keep him or her from suffering the physical repercussions that can come with nearsightedness.

“A specialized clinic is necessary, because we want to make sure that patients have the effects of these interventions closely monitored so we can verify that their eyes are slowing in their growth,” Wildsoet said.

Liu hopes the clinic can not only help prevent patients from having permanent damage to their eyes but also give future optometrists at UC Berkeley the tools to halt the progression of nearsightedness in children.

According to Liu, the clinic will provide treatments such as hard contact lenses worn at night both to halt the growth of the eye and improve daytime vision.

“Many clinicians are not involved in myopia control therapy because the data supporting optical intervention is very new,” Liu said. “Not everybody is going to be up to speed, and we are hoping that we will get clinicians up to speed as well as our graduates as they progress through.”

Contact Sophie Mattson at [email protected].

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