New research suggests regular eye checks vital in your 20s

Dr Samantha Lee

A research article published in JAMA Ophthalmology, “Incidence and progression of myopia during early adulthood”, suggests regular eye checks are essential in young adulthood – in your 20s – to detect the onset and progression of shortsightedness, known as myopia, which could increase a person’s risk of vision-related complications later in life.

The article, co-authored by Lions Eye Institute researcher Dr Samantha Sze-Yee Lee, explains that more than a third of young adults (those in their third decade of life) may experience a “myopic shift” in at least one eye after the age of 20. It was previously thought that myopia stabilises in children by their mid-teens.

Dr Lee says her team’s research signifies the importance of getting your eyes tested regularly, “We used to think that myopia, or short-sightedness, starts to develop and worsen only during childhood,” she says.

“However, our study reports that about 14 per cent of people who do not have myopia at age 20 go on to develop it by age 28.

“Additionally, myopia continues to worsen in about one-third of young adults in their third decade of life.”

The team also discovered that women are much more likely to have myopia onset or progress than men, “Women are at 80 per cent higher risk of myopia onset in their third decade of life, and have about twice the rate of myopia progression compared to men,” she says.

It is unclear why this is the case. Although Dr Lee and the team speculate that environmental factors, such as women’s tendency to work more in indoor-based occupations, may explain this difference.

Dr Lee says more research is needed to understand the reasons behind myopia progression in young adults, “There is limited data available on the development of myopia in young adults, and our research is one of the first studies to explore this cohort.

“We know having parents with myopia increases the risk and rate of progression, however most myopia studies have focused on children, or specific populations,” she says.

Dr Lee’s previous research, “How many young drivers do not meet the driver licencing vision requirements?” was published in Clinical & Experimental Ophthalmology in 2020, and shows that there is a high rate of un- or undercorrected myopia in young licensed drivers (15 per cent of 20-year olds) (link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/ceo.13772).

This is particularly concerning as even low levels of blur vision has been shown to potentially reduce driving performance, even if the minimum driving standard is met (QUT: https://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2189834).

About Dr Lee

Dr Lee is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Lions Eye Institute and an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Centre for Ophthalmology and Visual Science, University of Western Australia (UWA). Her current area of research includes ophthalmic epidemiology and genetics, with a focus on myopia and glaucoma.

In 2021 Dr Lee was awarded the Raine Medical Research Foundation’s 2021 Strachan Memorial Prize for the best published research by an early-career clinical researcher. This is the first time since the Raine Medical Research Foundation started the awards in 2011, that a publication prize has gone to an Ophthalmology researcher.

Dr Lee’s previous accolades include being awarded outstanding oral presentation at the Raine Study Annual Scientific Meeting in Perth in 2018 and 2020, and the outstanding abstract award at the World Ophthalmology Congress in Barcelona, Spain in 2018.

Link to the article in JAMA Ophthalmology

Link to author interview

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