Do you notice your child squinting to read or sitting too close to the television or computer screen?
If so, you’re not alone.
The incidence of myopia — nearsightedness — has risen dramatically over the past few decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the situation even worse. According to research studies, the increased amount of time children have spent indoors due to lockdowns, coupled with more time learning and playing on digital devices, has led to what several optometric and ophthalmological organizations are calling an “epidemic.”
According to the World Health Organization, around 30% of the world’s population has myopia, and this figure is expected to increase to a whopping 50% by 2050.
That’s worrying because moderate to high myopia in childhood raises the risk of developing sight-threatening eye diseases like macular degeneration and glaucoma later in life.
Although many cases of myopia are inherited, there is a growing body of evidence that the less time children spend outdoors and the more time they spend staring at a computer or mobile screen contributes to the onset and/or progression of nearsightedness.
What Is The Connection Between Screen Time and Myopia?
While eye doctors have long suspected that excessive screen time can contribute to the development and progression of myopia, they don’t know exactly why.
What is known: when children engage in long hours of “near work” activities such as looking at a computer or reading a book, the shape of their eyes can change from a healthy round shape to an elongated myopic shape.
At the same time, scientists are trying to determine whether the lower incidence of myopia and its progression among children who spend at least 2 hours a day outdoors is due to less screen time, looking into the distance while playing, or perhaps thanks to some inherent benefit of sunshine.
How to to Prevent Your Child From Developing Myopia
The ancient Greek expression “moderation in all things” is particularly apt when it comes to managing your kids’ screen time. Here are some tips to protect your child’s eyes:
- Set a reasonable amount of time per day for screen time, taking homework or school projects into account, and allow slightly more on the weekends.
- Make it a team effort: involve the entire family in screen time accountability, with each person — including parents — making a commitment to spend less time on-screen.
- Install apps and software that will set time limits for using video and gaming sites, for example.
- Pursue non-screen activities as a family, such as trips to the library or park.
- Schedule annual eye exams for your child.
What If My Child Already Has Myopia?
Although myopia can be corrected with eyeglasses and contact lenses, prescription eyewear doesn’t prevent myopia from progressing. Refractive surgery isn’t an option for children or teenagers because their eyes are still growing.
However, there is a way to slow or halt myopia’s progression.
Myopia management is a scientifically proven way to reduce myopia progression by as much as 78%, depending on the severity of a child’s myopia, their age and the type of myopia management program prescribed by your child’s eye doctor.
One of the keys to managing myopia and limiting its severity is diagnosing it early. Schedule an eye exam with Dr. Erin Pitts at Cypress Vision Therapy in Cypress if you’re concerned that your child may have myopia.
- A: An optometrist will diagnose myopia with:A refraction assessment test
An eye health examDuring the refraction assessment test the eye doctor will put a mask-like device with wheel-like lenses of different magnifications in front of the patient’s eyes to see which combination of lenses helps the patient see most clearly.
For an eye health exam, the eye doctor may administer eye drops that dilate the pupils to allow a clear view to the back of the eye.
- A: The more nearsighted a child is, the greater their risk of developing serious conditions like retinal detachment, glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration in adulthood. All of these conditions can lead to vision loss, including blindness. The goal of myopia management is to slow and hopefully stop the progression of myopia early, to protect a child’s eye health as they grow.