Screen time may be adversely affecting your child’s vision. According to the recent CLEERE Study, myopia has increased 66% in the last 30 years in the U.S. This number has rocketed up 30% in only the most recent 10 years in the U.S. and approximately 40% in China. Recent studies suggest that the cause is due to increased near activity that children are involved in. Clinical and animal studies now give us a better understanding of how the eye changes and elongates. The retinal image and appropriate focus along the surface of the back of the eye greatly influences the changes that occur to the shape of the eye and resultant vision. Excessive screen time and poor focus can lead to rapid unwanted changes to the eyes of growing children.
Unfortunately, kids are increasingly faced with more screen time in the classroom, with homework, and at play with personal pads, devices, and computer games. These activities draw the child’s attention and vision increasingly closer causing extra stress on their visual systems. The amount of focus stress on the eye triples when shifting focus from arm’s length to one foot. This increased near stress causes the growing eye to undergo permanent changes, including elongation of the globe, stretching of the internal optic nerve retinal fibers and blood vessels, and changes in the cornea. These changes will make your child’s vision blurrier, and create higher risks for ocular damage including glaucoma, retinal tears, and retinal degeneration, according to the Flitcroft study. The calculated health risk of this increased myopia is comparable to hypertension, smoking, and cardiovascular disease.
So, what can you do about it? For starters, get your child a professional eye examination. Vision screenings are not enough to assess changes in the ocular structure, accommodative ability, and risk for myopic changes. Your eye care professional can help you set a course of action for prevention or slowing the changes that eyeglasses alone cannot provide. There are now non-surgical means that can give your child better vision and a better quality of life. Corneal reshaping and Orthokeratology (specialty contact lenses) that act as braces for the eye can provide your child with adequate vision and will slow the progression of blur. There are also new soft contacts that just came to the U.S. market that have been shown to slow myopic changes as well as some new medication that is delivered as an eye drop.
You can also find ways to reduce screen time. I often suggest to parents to use the 20/20 rule – after 20 minutes of screen time, get up and walk around for 20 seconds. Also, move your child further away from the computer and set time limits on personal devices. Most importantly, kids need more time outdoors, not only will that help their vision but aid in their physical well-being.