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Myopia booms in Hong Kong

If you were to ask people what they believe to be their most important organ, chances are high that many people will say the brain. While the importance of the brain is beyond doubt, there is another organ that we rely on just as much, our eyes. It is through our eyes that many of us experience much of the world around us, and that is why doctors believe it is so important to ensure that we keep our eyes healthy. Unfortunately, a recent report has found that there has been a marked increase in the number of cases of myopia among children in Hong Kong. In this article, Pacific Prime Hong Kong takes a look at myopia in Hong Kong and how family health insurance plans will cover it.  

Myopia in Hong Kong

Before we look into myopia in Hong Kong, it would be beneficial to first define what exactly it is. Myopia, commonly referred to as ‘nearsightedness’ is a vision-based condition where objects close to us are in focus and clear, but objects far away are blurry. One of the best examples of this is where you can’t read what’s written on a whiteboard from the back of the room, or clearly see a movie while sitting at the back of the theater.

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According to All About Vision, “Myopia, is the most common refractive error of the eye, and it has become more prevalent in recent years.” In fact, the estimated prevalence of myopia worldwide was around 22% in 2014. Of course, this figure will vary by country, but it is generally acknowledged that this prevalence is growing worldwide, especially in children.

Looking at Hong Kong, a recent report has found that just under 80,000 children in Hong Kong were found to have some form of myopia in 2015, which represents an increase of 10.5% over 2014’s figures. According to an article in the SCMP, “Department of Health figures showed rates among primary and secondary pupils were 21.7 percent and 15.8 percent respectively in the 2014-15 school year.”      

What causes myopia?

Myopia is most commonly caused by either an eyeball that is too long from front to back or a cornea that is too curved. This means that light that enters the eye is not focused on the retina, rather right in front of the retina. This results in images in the distance being blurry.

The exact reasons as to why myopia happens are not actually known, but there are two contributing factors that most experts agree on.

It’s our genetics

Numerous reports have found some links between parents and myopia. For example, if one or both of your parents have myopia, then there is a higher chance that you too will also be nearsighted. For example, the National Center for Biological Information from the US highlights a number of studies on this. One study found that, “there is a prevalence of myopia in 7-year-old children of 7.3% when neither parent was myopic, 26.2% when one parent was myopic, and 45% when both parents were myopic.”

It’s our lifestyle

The second contributing factor to myopia is our lifestyle. Many people believe that one of the major contributors to myopia is the amount of near-work – work and activities were we look at things close to our eyes like books and mobile/computer screens – many children are doing these days. The fact of the matter is, many studies have been done on this, with most coming to the conclusion that this could have an impact on the development of myopia but there is so much disparate data out there that it has never really been confirmed one way or another.

That said, there is mounting evidence that our lifestyle choices do have an impact on our chances of developing myopia, especially in children. In 2013, Popular Science reported on a review of reports that amalgamated data from different studies on 16,000 children and found that children who spend more time inside are more likely to develop myopia than kids who spent time playing outside. The article also noted that, “A few of the later studies also found that being outdoors protected even those kids who did a lot of near work or had myopic parents. The studies included kids living in Europe, the U.S., Asia, the Middle East and Australia.”

Earlier this summer a paper from the Peking University’s China Center for Health Development was released on eye health in China, backing up this information. On this report, Business Insider reported that, “some factors contributing to this crisis [of increased cases of myopia in China] are the urbanization, sedentary lifestyle, and prevalence of smartphones that have taken over China in recent years.”

Beyond that, there are also a number of studies that have been done on mice revolving around exposure to natural light, the circadian rhythm, and development of the eye. According to the NEI (National Eye Institute), “Early studies with animal models have shown that environments that exclude natural daylight, or are solely lit by artificial light, or that switch day for night, influence how long the eyeball grows.”

Is there any danger?

Generally speaking, myopia is most likely to first show up in younger children primarily because their eyes are not fully developed and are, therefore, more susceptible to the factors that contribute to the development of myopia discussed above.

The vast majority of cases of myopia are usually mild, which mean there is little to no danger posed. Of course, you will have to wear glasses or contacts, or even go for surgery like Lasik when you are old enough.

There are more severe cases of myopia, however, referred to as ‘high degree myopia’. This is where the eyeball continues to grow in length and can result in increased chances of retinal detachment, and early development of corneas or glaucoma. In Hong Kong, it would appear that the prevalence of high degree myopia is increasing. The SCMP article linked to above (in the Myopia in Hong Kong section) reported on a study conducted by the Polytechnic University on 120 children aged 12-18. Of the 120 children studied, 75% were already showing retinal problems.

While this sample size was small, it, along with the other reports, does highlight that it is an issue that should be taken seriously in Hong Kong.

Is there any way to treat myopia?

The good thing about most cases of myopia is that it is easily treatable. With many mild cases, you will usually be prescribed glasses or contacts to wear. These will help to correct your vision but rarely, if ever, actually improve it. For some cases, surgery like Lasik may be recommended.

Beyond that, much of the research listed above seems to agree that getting outside more can be a great way to minimize the chances of developing myopia. Not to mention the other health benefits more exercise and activity can bring.  

Will my insurance cover treatment?

This can be a tough question to answer, as it will depend on the insurance plan you have selected. Most health insurers will tend to group optical coverage with other extended benefits like dental and wellness coverage. This means that to secure optical coverage you are going to need to do so as an addition on top of your existing health insurance plan. It is also a common benefit covered by group health insurance plans, meaning many people get optical coverage through their company-sponsored coverage.

If you do have a plan that covers optical, then it is highly likely that things like glasses, checkups, and contacts will be covered by the plan even if you have myopia before you secure it. That said, some plans do treat severe myopia as a pre-existing condition, meaning that if you are diagnosed with it before securing health insurance, surgeries related to myopia may not be covered.

It is because of this that it is a good idea to ensure that you secure a quality health insurance plan that will cover your needs, especially when it comes to ensuring the best care for your children. View Pacific Prime Hong Kong’s Family Health Insurance page today to learn more about your coverage options.

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Jess Lindeman

Content Strategist at Pacific Prime Hong Kong
Jessica Lindeman is a Content Strategist at Pacific Prime. She comes to work every day living and breathing the motto of "simplifying insurance", and injects her unbridled enthusiasm for health and insurance related topics into every article and piece of content she creates for Pacific Prime.

When she's not typing away on her keyboard, she's reading poetry, fueling her insatiable wanderlust, getting her coffee fix, and perpetually browsing animal Instagram accounts.
Jess Lindeman