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New treatment for nearsightedness

A treatment known as ortho-k, in which patients wear contact lenses only at night, is increasingly being used to treat nearsightedness

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By Jan Brogan  |  Globe Correspondent 

Devon Wiley of Hingham, who is nearsighted, uses ortho-k contacts, an alternative to Lasik and glasses. The lenses reshape the cornea and improve a patient’s vision.

By the time she was 14 years old, Devon Wiley of Hingham had been wearing glasses for four years. She hated the way they looked on her, and they also got in the way when she did gymnastics.

Now, at 17, she competes in field hockey, lacrosse, and track, without having to worry about glasses or contact lenses.

Similarly, Jonathan Vautrin, 15, of Brookline got tired of having to remember to bring his glasses to school or to a movie. His mother, Muriel Vautrin, was concerned that every year, her son’s eyes got weaker and his prescription stronger.

Wiley and Vautrin, who are nearsighted, are the new target market for ortho­keratology, also known as ortho-k, a once-maligned treatment option for weakvision that uses specially designed contact lenses to temporarily reshape the cornea. Lenses are worn overnight and removed in the morning. Vision remains clear the next day.

“I don’t have to worry about them falling out when I’m playing sports or swimming,” said Wiley.

Vautrin said he prefers the ortho-k lenses over traditional contact lenses. “For some reason, I found it a lot more annoying to wear them [contact lenses] all day than to just put them in at night,” he said.

There are advantages to ortho-k beyond convenience, proponents say. Several studies show that regular wearing of ortho-k lenses may slow the progression of nearsightedness — though ophthalmologists debate the claim.

Nearsightedness, or myopia, affects between 33 and 42 percent of Americans, depending on how it is defined and what age ranges are included, according to statistics from the National Eye Institute, one of the National Institutes of Health.Optometrists and ophthalmologists, who differ in methods for treating nearsightedness, compete for what is a lucrative market to correct myopia.

Typically appearing in childhood, myopia worsens until about age 20 when the eye stops changing. It is caused by an eyeball that is too long or a cornea that is too steeply curved. The curvature causes the light entering the eye to miss the correct target on the retina, according to the American Optometric Association. While close vision is unaffected, distant objects look blurry.

To treat myopia, orthokeratology uses specially designed contact lenses to flatten the soft tissue of the cornea so the light hits the retina correctly.

Technological changes that matched the lenses more precisely to a patient’s cornea improved the safety of the lens and consistency of results.

Children have softer, more malleable corneas. This makes their eyes especially receptive to treatment with the lenses, Frank said.

“The biggest problem with kids is that they get more nearsighted every year,” Frank said.

The lenses reshape the cornea on a temporary basis only.

Herzberg said that because of the improvements in technology, he predicts that ortho-k will grow in popularity. “I promise you the dialogue will change in the very near future.”

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