With nearsightedness rapidly growing in children, WCO webinars address the latest in mitigation, management and treatment for clinical practice
As World Council of Optometry (WCO) President-Elect, Dr. Sandra Block was involved with the recent WCO Virtual Event, Myopia Management: Advancing the Standard of Care. Below, she addresses today’s growing needs surrounding the myopia epidemic in children.
The alarming rise of pediatric myopia is a global and multi-faceted problem — and to help control the impending epidemic, optometrists need to know (and follow) the most current and effective management and treatment strategies. As simple as this might sound, it becomes more complicated when applied on a global scale: Practice styles and educational backgrounds differ worldwide, as well as access to care and resources. And when these factors are combined, it can become challenging to change practice patterns.
Myopia is more than just refractive error
Before retiring, Dr. Sandra Block dedicated her career to pediatric optometry. Now, as the president-elect of the World Council of Optometry (WCO), she’s bringing her invaluable expertise to a global stage to help elevate the standard of care in myopia management.
Dr. Block says part of this is recognizing that myopia is not only a refractive state — but rather, a disease entity — that can cause vision loss through a number of different pathologies associated with moderate and high myopia. This includes posterior segment conditions like tilted disc, tessellated fundus, posterior staphyloma, thin choroid, macular degeneration, peripheral retinal degeneration and vitreoretinal interface disease.
“Since we are now aware of the association of moderate and high myopia with these relatively common pathologies, it becomes more important for optometrists to look at myopia as a disease entity and consider myopia management to reduce the risk of developing these vision-threatening pathologies,” she said.
Use the latest evidence-based strategies in clinical practice
In addition, the continued increase of myopia prevalence in younger children further contributes to the urgent need for eye care practitioners to get on the same page when it comes to management strategies.
“The profession is learning that the epidemic (almost pandemic) of myopia is continuing to grow,” said Dr. Block. “And it’s clear that there are many researchers providing evidence on how to address myopia management — and it’s imperative for eye care providers to stay on top of current research and how it impacts practice patterns.”
One way for optometrists around the world to stay up-to-date with the evolving research is to participate in webinars, like the recent one held by WCO. During these informative events, optometrists can glean clinical pearls that can be integrated into daily practice — all backed by experts and their personal experience.
“The WCO has realized that we, as global leaders for the optometric profession, need to communicate this research and rethink how we regard myopia,” explained Dr. Block. And it’s not just the optometric societies that are answering the call to halt myopia progression — the industry is also also stepping up in areas of research and development, as well as in supporting education. For example, the WCO, along with Coopervision, created their “Standard of Care Guidelines for Myopia Management” in 2021 to serve as an important resource for optometrists. This includes information on new tools developed for myopia mitigation, measurement and management, supported by well-designed studies that demonstrate successful methods to slow down the progression of the disease.
Embracing change through education
According to Dr. Block, although eye care providers are slow to integrate change in their practices, it is happening — and the WCO is ready to support these efforts through education.
“From my perspective, change will occur faster as schools and colleges of optometry teach myopia management within the core curriculum,” said Dr. Block. “In addition, the number of webinars and articles that focus on the changing preferred practice guidelines, along with the education of the public from groups such as the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition (GMAC), will drive change at the level of patient care. Educational programs will need to continue to be offered to help optometrists maintain the highest level of knowledge and skills to best treat their patients.”
It’s Dr. Block’s hope that viewers of the WCO Virtual Event were convinced to at least update their perspective of myopia — and that’s away from the dated idea that myopia is a refractive error that can be corrected with simple optical lenses … to the reality that myopia is a disease entity that needs early detection, treatment and follow-up.
“It’s our responsibility to educate patients and parents about lifestyle changes that can help lessen the impact, along with new and emerging tools to improve outcomes,” she said, adding that when it comes to pediatric eye care, parent involvement and awareness is imperative.
For example, parents should know what risk factors can be modified and which cannot, like genetics: “If a parent has myopia, that immediately increases the risk and that cannot be changed,” said Dr. Block. However, lifestyle changes can be made to help lower this risk, such as spending more time (at least 90 minutes per day) outdoors and less time on devices or doing other close work.
Eye exams also play a crucial role: Starting at age 3 and throughout school-age, children should undergo multiple comprehensive eye exams. “We know that the eyes are still developing, and vision can change up to the age of 20,” she added.
“We need to ensure that our patients are offered the most effective and current treatments that could help maintain a lifetime of good vision,” said Dr. Block. “Optometry is core to the diagnosis and treatment of myopia and I envision that the profession will step up to the call to action.”
For more information about myopia or register for an upcoming webinar, visit https://myopia.worldcouncilofoptometry.info.