Myopia: A Treatable Epidemic

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

By Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

December 30, 2019

Would it be OK with you if we made your life easier for less money?

We are in the middle of a myopia epidemic. One in 3 people in the world can’t see 20 feet in front of them or pass a driver’s test without glasses. Most people don’t realize that when children are inside using smartphones rather than playing outside in the natural sunlight, nearsightedness worsens. The percentage is projected to increase to 50% of the world population by the year 2050. The other half of the population is farsighted, meaning they can see far away, but not up close, so you’ll see them at restaurants holding their menus out trying to figure out what to have for dinner. And 100% of people become presbyopic at about age 45, which makes reading glasses or bifocals necessary. So for those of you keeping score, 100% of people will need some sort of prosthetic device to see at some point in their lives. Isn’t it interesting that when someone can’t walk 20 feet, we offer them a solution such as a knee replacement, so that they don’t have to rely on prosthetics such as crutches and wheelchairs? But for people who can’t see 20 feet, we expect them to rely on prosthetics such as glasses and contacts for their entire lives!

How many people have myopia in 2022?

Myopia is a major obstacle for people in 2022. Let’s take a look at the prevalence of myopia in the United States. Around 23.9% of Americans suffer from myopia. In the United States, there are approximately 140,000.000 people under the age of 40. That means that just around 34,000,000 people under the age of 40 suffer from myopia. For many of these individuals, there are suitable treatment options other than contact lenses or glasses.

For the first time in history, we have the technology to fix something that affects such a large percentage of the world.

The old paradigm looks like this: glasses are first prescribed around age 7 to 10, on average. When kids are a little older, they can have contacts. They continue with these modalities until their 40s and 50s when the aging lens inside the eye requires them to use reading glasses or bifocals. They continue with those until their cataracts develop, and everyone gets cataracts if they live long enough. After cataract surgery, they still need bifocals. It has historically been considered acceptable for someone to be dependent on glasses for nearly their entire lives.

It doesn’t have to continue this way. When myopia is first diagnosed, there are interventions that can slow and control its progression, such as the recently approved bifocal contacts for children.

Lifestyle modifications such as decreased screen time and increased exposure to natural light may be beneficial.

So the new paradigm looks like this: when myopia is first diagnosed and glasses prescribed, ages 7 to 10, myopia control is started at the same time with bifocal contacts to slow its progression. Once the eyes are done developing, in the late teens and early 20s, most are able to have a vision correction procedure. And because we slow down the progression, the treatment they need isn’t as significant. Vision correction can provide crisp clear vision until the aging lens needs to be replaced, typically in our 50s or older. After which, people can see far and near and never develop cataracts.

The individual benefits of vision correction for myopia are massive and can be grouped into three categories: functional, safety, and financial.

Athletes figured out the functional benefits years ago. Many top athletes such as Tiger Woods have had their vision corrected to improve their performance.

When first responders such as firefighters are in an emergency situation, the last thing they want to worry about is their vision. It’s a matter of life and death.

The same is true for the military. The US Armed Forces provide vision correction services for its active duty members, and it’s considered a major tactical advantage on the battlefield.

The same groups have realized the safety benefits of the new paradigm compared to the old one. Consider that the lifetime risk of a contact lens-associated infection increases by 10% per year of use. I mean, how many of us have slept in our contacts over the years? Compare that to the risk of infection from a vision correction procedure which is less than one in 10,000. There are risks that need to be considered and discussed, but they have to be compared to the alternatives. In the modern era, the risk of vision loss from a contact lens-associated infection exceeds that of a vision correction procedure.

If a 20-year-old college student spends $950 per year (that’s the average in the United States) on glasses, contact lenses, and contact lens solutions, she or he will spend over $24,000 by the time they’re 45 years old.

Just on vision.

In contrast, if she has her vision fixed at age 20, she will save over $20,000 over the same time span. And have the safety and functional benefits for over 25 years.

So let’s take these numbers and think a little more broadly. In a city of 1 million people, roughly 330,000 suffer from myopia. If each of these people could save $15,000 by fixing their vision instead of paying the ongoing cost, the cumulative economic savings it is over $5 billion. And that’s just for one mid-sized American city, and only for myopia. That’s not including the other 60% who can’t see the menu at the restaurant. If we take these numbers and apply them to the broader United States and beyond, the economic impact is staggering. And in an era of escalating healthcare cost, a solution that provides an improved quality of life and a savings for the individual and society, is simply too compelling to ignore. So let’s think even bigger, let’s think globally. Of the worlds 7 1/2 billion, 6 billion live in the developing world. 75% of those age 18 to 45, the years of peak productivity, do not have access to glasses or contacts. Lost production from this group exceeds $250 billion every year. The psychological and social impact of not being able to contribute meaningfully to their community is perhaps even more significant. Glasses are a cheap solution, but they need to be maintained and replaced, which is difficult in the developing world. Contact lenses are an option, but they require education, hygiene, and close follow up. All of which are difficult. Imagine using vision correction to ease their burden, making them independent, productive members of their communities. Vision correction has been proven safe and effective for almost 30 years. It has the highest satisfaction rate of any procedure in the history of humanity.

So why are so many people stuck in the old paradigm, and what can we do to reframe the new one?
The answer is: it’s already happening.

You see, we humans are not used to quick solutions that work, particularly when it comes to healthcare. We expect everything to be overly complicated, expensive and ineffective. We fixate on the outliers, the people who didn’t have the experience they hoped to have. We say: “See, I told you it was too good to be true.” We ignore the overwhelmingly positive statistics, and the risk of contact lenses. We are also skeptical of things that are easy. I mean how often does someone of education and authority say to you, “would it be OK with you if we made your life easier for less money?” We assume such things don’t exist. But they do. For example, at the Tilganga Eye institute in Nepal, surgeons are being taught the most modern vision correction techniques in the world, and they treat tens of thousands of people each year. It’s just one small example of how we’re reducing a genetic defect on a mass scale. We are reframing the paradigm in a more effective and affordable way.

Glasses and contacts are a tried and true method of seeing clearly, and an excellent choice for many. But does anyone still think they will be wearing glasses and contacts in the future? I mean look at the people on Star Trek: no one is wearing glasses. Historians are going to look back at our era and look back and marvel that we were willing to get up in the morning and put pieces of plastic in our eyes so we could function, when we could’ve had our problem fixed. Millennials in the United States have figured this out. 70% of them either are planning to have vision correction, or have already heard it. Many of their parents had their eyes fixed years ago. So as the new paradigm replaces the old, vision correction becomes a right of passage. Similar to how braces are viewed by people who want straighter teeth. When the appropriate age is reached, the defect is corrected. When our knees prevent us from walking 20 feet, we get them fixed. When our eyes prevent us from seeing 20 feet, we get them fixed.

Is LASIK a suitable treatment for myopia?

For some people, LASIK can be a good option for treating myopia. The National Institute of Health completed a study in 2008 on the impact of LASIK on individuals with myopia. They examined nearly 800 eyes in 402 patients. The study followed patients who had sought out LASIK treatment for various degrees of myopia. From the day of treatment to five years after the fact, the study looked at the effectiveness and safety of LASIK for myopia treatments.

The study found that LASIK was an extremely safe and effective treatment option for myopia patients and vision improvements carried through for most patients throughout the duration of the study.

If you suffer from myopia, is LASIK a good treatment option?

Patients who suffer from mild to moderate forms of myopia will experience symptoms like headaches, squinting, and seeing objects that are far away. By far, LASIK is a good treatment option for these types of individuals. For those who suffer from more severe types of myopia, there are other treatment options that might be more effective. For example, a procedure called photorefractive keratectomy (PRK), is often used to treat patients who suffer from severe myopia.

How does an Ophthalmologist determine the best treatment option for myopia?

To determine the best treatment option for myopia, your eye specialist will take you through a series of diagnostics that examine your vision from different perspectives. They will look at the history of your myopia, do a complete eye examination, and other factors. Ultimately, the exam will determine whether or not your vision falls into the range that LASIK can successfully improve. Just because LASIK may not be a suitable option does not mean that your myopia cannot be corrected.

Is LASIK an affordable option for the treatment of myopia?

If we look at the example above, the average person will have spent $20,000 over 25 years of their life if they started investing on glasses and corrective lenses at the time they were 20. LASIK starts at just about $500 per eye. Most people will never need to revisit their LASIK treatment later in their life. In fact, 95% of people will never need a followup treatment. Only two to five percent of people will need the procedure repeated. Some people may elect to get a LASIK enhancement ten years after their procedure, but for most this is never the case. And for added peace of mind, SharpeVision offers LASIK4Life that covers the cost of any and all enhancements you may ever need. 

There is a solution for myopia, an easily treatable epidemic.

Good vision starts with speaking with an expert. For most people who suffer from mild or moderate myopia, Lasik can be a viable option. For those with more severe myopia, options such as PRK may pose a viable solution. Book an appointment at our Seattle, Austin, or Chicago locations if myopia is something that you want a solution for.

– Dr. Matthew Sharpe, MD

Dr. Matthew Sharpe- Founder of SharpeVision

Dr. Matthew R. Sharpe

Dr. Matthew Sharpe is an Ophthalmologist specializing in refractive surgery and the owner SharpeVision MODERN LASIK & LENS, with offices in Seattle, Austin, and Chicago. Dr. Sharpe is a world traveler, pianist, marathon runner, motorcyclist, and fluent French speaker. He enjoys every second of life, but finds he is happiest at home cheering on The Ohio State Buckeyes with his wife, three children, and four dogs.
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