Nearsightedness among children has been steadily on the rise. This may not sound like a serious problem. Just get eyeglasses or contact lenses, right? Not quite. In adults, being nearsighted raises risk for some serious vision problems and eye diseases. Good news: A new kind of contact lens keeps childhood nearsightedness from getting worse…and protects their adult eyes down the road.

Myopia, the medical term for nearsightedness, generally first occurs in school-aged children while the eye is still developing. The shape of the eye becomes too long from front to back, causing the focal point of light (the image you are looking at) coming through the lens of the eye to fall in front of instead of on the retina at the back of the eye where vision cells are located. The result is that near objects are clear but distant objects appear blurry. Eye development is complete by age 20, and myopia generally stabilizes by age 30.

Myopia tends to run in families. However, the fact that children are increasingly spending more time indoors using their close vision on things like smartphones, computers, tablets and TV—and less time outdoors using their distance vision—may be changing the shape of their eyes as they grow. The latest statistics show that myopia currently affects up to 40% of Americans, compared with 25% 40 years ago.

Rising rates of myopia in childhood, especially when it is severe, mean that more adults will have the condition—and will be at increased risk for the vision problems associated with it, such as vitreous floaters, cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment.

A new contact lens, called MiSight 1 day, that helps slow myopia while the eye is still growing has been approved by the FDA. As with conventional contact lenses, the new lens corrects vision by focusing most of the light coming into the eye on the retina. In addition, concentric circles built into the lens also focus some light in front of the retina. This split focus is thought to reduce the stimulus that causes myopia to keep getting worse.

Researchers at clinical eye-care centers in Canada, Portugal, Singapore and the UK conducted a three-year randomized, controlled trial of 144 children (ages eight to 12 at the start of the study) that compared wearing MiSight lenses daily with wearing standard corrective contact lenses. Results: Those who wore the MiSight lenses had a nearly 60% decrease in myopia progression compared with those who wore standard contact lenses. The MiSight wearers also had less change in the length of their eyeballs at each annual visit. There were also no serious adverse ocular events, such as corneal ulcers, among the users of either kind of lens.

MiSight 1 day are single-use, disposable, soft contacts meant to be worn from morning to night and then discarded.  Approved for children ages eight to 12, the lenses are currently being used in Canada and Europe and will be available in the US through eye-care professionals starting in spring 2020. Parents of children diagnosed with myopia should discuss with their child’s eye-care professional whether MiSight is appropriate. For more information, contact CooperVision, the company that makes the lenses.