Smart solution alleviates vision problems - EJ Insight


Smart solution alleviates vision problems

According to the first world report on vision issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment or blindness globally, which forms a huge financial burden to the world. For example, visual impairment due to uncorrected myopia and presbyopia caused losses in annual global productivity of US$244 billion and US$25.4 billion respectively. It is predicted that nearly half of the world's population will suffer from myopia by 2050, and the prevalence in East Asian is higher, reaching 51.6%.

Hong Kong is among cities with the highest prevalence of myopia in the world, affecting more than 40% of school children at the age of eight. School closure or social distancing measures in response to the COVID-19 epidemic has triggered a “myopia boom” in school children in Hong Kong, according to a study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). The study found a 2.5-fold increase in myopia incidence among school children during the pandemic, the trend of getting myopia is becoming worse. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) also found that the astigmatism rate of school children has increased by nearly 50% due to suspension of face-to-face classes, and the average myopia of school children has worsened by nearly 40%, the situation deserves attention.

Severe myopia may cause serious vision problems, including retinal detachment, myopic macular degeneration, cataract, and glaucoma. There are various ways of early treatment to control the progression of myopia, such as atropine eye drops and specially designed spectacle lenses. In 2020, the School of Optometry research team from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University together with an academic-led startup and a research collaborator of the University, conducted a two-year study on "optical defocusing". This has led to its first product, the Defocus Incorporated Soft Contact (DISC) lens. A clinical trial with Hong Kong school children aged between 8 and 13 showed that DISC lenses slowed myopia progression by about 60% when the lenses were worn for eight hours every day during the two-year trial period. It is believed to be an effective way to control the progression of myopia in children.

Artificial intelligence (AI) devices can scan the patient's retina and perform analysis to identify more than 50 kinds of ophthalmic diseases, such as glaucoma, myopic macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, with an accuracy of over 90%, according to medical research. Since glaucoma can lead to vision loss and even blindness, in June 2021, the Department of Ophthalmology Visual Sciences of the Chinese University of Hong Kong launched a pilot project to use AI to automatically assess and calculate the probability of patients suffering from glaucoma, strengthening glaucoma screening. It helps doctors pick out high-risk patients, so that diagnosed patients can be treated early to reduce the chance of vision loss.

As the population ages, vision problems among the elderly are also a big concern. Fortunately, there are many thoughtful smart auxiliary products in the market that can help the elderly or the visually impaired to get going with their daily activities. For example, screen reading software can read aloud the text displayed on a computer screen, which is convenient for listening to newspaper news or reading e-mails. There are also various mobile applications specially designed for visually impaired people, which can send get-off reminders, identify banknotes from different countries, and spot different objects through the background support platform of an application. There are also wearable devices which are lightweight and can be installed on glasses to assist in reading various texts, including printed and electronic, and also in identifying different packaging barcodes.

Eyes are the windows to the soul, we should cherish and take good care of them with the correct eye care routines, especially when using electronic products. According to the WHO, almost half of the world’s vision impairment could have been prevented or avoided, so we need to develop good eye care habits as soon as possible to prevent eye diseases, keep our eyes healthy so that we can continue seeing the wonderful world.




Dr. Winnie Tang
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering; Department of Geography, Faculty of Social Sciences; and Faculty of Architecture, The University of Hong Kong