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Myopia & the NICER Study

The NICER Study

The Northern Ireland Childhood Errors of Refraction (NICER) study is the largest study in the UK and Ireland to examine how children's vision, in particular their refractive error (i.e. how long- or short-sighted they are) changes through childhood and adolescence. The study began in 2006 when over a thousand 6-7 and 12-13 year old local school children were recruited and had their first vision assessment. Our research team visited primary and post-primary schools in the North and West of Northern Ireland where we measured how well each child could see, how long- or short-sighted they were, the size of their eyes, their height and weight and also asked them and their parents about their child's lifestyle, diet and the family's history of spectacle wear.

Longitudinal Studies

Three, six and nine years after the initial assessment, each participant was invited to have these measures repeated. These data, spanning nine years for each child, provide us with a unique insight into the visual development of children in Northern Ireland and the factors influencing their vision and visual status. The study has been funded throughout by the College of Optometrists.

Key findings from The NICER Study to date:

  • Nearly one in 5 teenagers in Northern Ireland are short-sighted (myopic)
  • Teenagers in Northern Ireland are three times more likely to be short-sighted than comparable Australian teenagers, but not as likely to be short-sighted as Asian teenagers. The interplay between environment and genetics is likely to be important in determining how many children become short-sighted and how short-sighted they become. Our current research is exploring how environmental factors influence childhood myopia development in more detail.
  • Children in the UK are becoming short-sighted at a younger age than we previously thought, the development of short-sightedness is most likely to occur in the primary school years.
  • Long-sightedness (hyperopia), astigmatism (sometimes referred to as ‘rugby ball’ shaped eyes) and a difference in refractive error between a person's two eyes (anisometropia) are more common in Northern Ireland than in other populations
  • Few children in Northern Ireland have significant visual impairment. However, 25% of children needing glasses, don't routinely bring them to school and their vision is poorer because of this

With these findings in mind, we are starting a new study to find out whether the situation is getting worse and what is causing it. Like before, we are hoping local school children will help us to complete our new research study.

The new NICER Study

What is this new study about?

Short-sight (myopia) is becoming more common across the world and is starting in children at younger ages than ever before. This means that many children need glasses or contact lenses to see far away objects and will continue to need glasses through their adult life to see clearly for driving, watching TV etc. Short-sight is not just a problem because it means wearing glasses for clear vision; it is also linked to some serious eye problems in later life. So, the fact that more children are becoming short-sighted is worrying for their long-term eye health and vision.

Short-sight tends to ‘run’ in families but research has shown that children’s lifestyles are encouraging short-sightedness to develop, even when their parents don’t wear glasses. Research from other countries suggests that modern children spend less time outdoors, more time studying and more time using smart phones and tablets. Do these features of modern life encourage short-sight?

We want to find out more about this by investigating;

1. How many children in Northern Ireland are short-sighted now and compare this with our previous figures from 2006 (before smart phones and tablets became commonly used) and,

2. How much time children spend studying, playing outside and using smart phones and tablets.

What is involved if you and your child consent to take part in this new study?

Your child (and their classmates) will have their eyes tested at school by an Optometrist; the test should take about 1 hour. We will measure how well your child sees (without/with glasses if they wear them). We will ask them to look into a piece of equipment so we can measure the size and shape of their eyes and how long- or short-sighted they are. Nothing touches their eyes and these measurements are taken very quickly whilst they look at a small target, usually a light. We will measure each child’s height, waist circumference and weight and help them fill in a questionnaire to find out how much time they think they spend on activities like playing outside, reading, watching television, using a smartphone or tablet. After the eye test we will check the results carefully. If we find your child needs glasses or needs to update his/her glasses we will write to you advising that your child should visit your local Optometrist to have a full eye test.

Watch our animation for more information on what to expect if you are asked to participate in our study;

Can we limit Myopia development?

We are involved in a UK and Ireland Clinical Trial using an eye drop on children identified as at-risk of developing myopia.