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Does The Use of Digital Devices Cause Myopia In Children?

kid with tablet 640Myopia (nearsightedness) occurs when the eyeball grows too long, or the cornea and/or eye lens are too curved relative to the length of the eyeball. This causes objects that are at a distance, to look blurry. More than 1 out of every 3 people who live in the US have Myopia.  Myopia starts in childhood. 

Being nearsighted is more than just an inconvenience. Children with moderate to severe myopia are at significant risk of developing sight-threatening eye diseases later in life, such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and retinal detachment.

The question is:  is there a link between spending too much time on digital devices and myopia? The good things about computers and digital devices is that it is a learning tool, engaging our children, at least to a degree, now during COVID..  It keeps our children busy and entertained.  What are the implications associated with all this screen time?

What Does the Research Show? 

There is growing evidence that up-close tasks raise the risk of myopia in children. In an analysis of 27 studies on 25,000 children published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers found that the more time children spent on near-work activities like reading, homework, writing, computer use, playing video games, and watching TV, the higher their risk of developing myopia. 

The analysis found that the odds of myopia increased by 2% for every hour per week a child did near-work activities. 

Some people ask:  is it the computer that is doing this to my child?  No.  It's how the person USES their visual system that CHANGES the visual system; over-focusing and over-converging.

Studies have found that children who spend a significant amount of time playing outdoors experience less myopia progression than children who are homebodies. Why is that?  Again, the reason is how someone USES their system, CHANGES their system.  Researchers theorize that looking at distant objects, such as a ball flying through the air at the far end of a sports field, and sunshine play a role in myopia prevention.  Unfortunately, this statement demonstrates that those doctors don't really understand the visual system.  It is not the "outside" that is improving the system and preventing the myopia from progressing, rather, it is the fact that the child is NOT INSIDE working on the computer and over-focusing the accommodative system or over-converging the fusional system.

Some have advocated limiting the amount of time a child uses a digital screen.  Realistically, that will not prevent the progression of myopia, because THAT is the way we do things now, both as children and as adults.  Think about the amount of time that you spend on your computer or cell phone.  It is probably significantly more than you did just 5 or 10 years ago. 

To learn more about myopia or to slow its progression, contact Family Eye Care today.  Dr. Roth and Dr. Tiomno will be able to help you with that.

What Are the Signs of Myopia? 

  • Blurred vision: Using a digital screen for long periods of time can result in blurry vision, especially when focusing on distant objects.  The most common way to address myopia in the past, and even still now, is that the doctor merely prescribes a higher and higher eyeglass power.  The problem is that that does not address the underlying REASON for the myopia progression and it merely addresses the ultimate result.  It addresses the "smoke" but not the "fire" that is causing the smoke.
  • Headaches: Untreated myopia can cause serious eye strain, which in turn results in headaches.  Here, it is the over-focusing (accommodation) or the over-converging for long periods that is at the root cause for the headaches.  Children often assume that this is normal and therefore can't or don't complain that this is a problem.
  • Head tilting or squinting: If you notice your child tilting their head while watching TV or squinting their eyes, it’s a sign that they are having difficulty focusing. This could be a sign of myopia.  Again, here, the myopia is the result, but what most people want to address is what is the root cause for this?
  • Holding reading material too closely: Frequently children cannot verbally explain how they feel, but they can express it in a non-verbal way. If you notice your child moving closer to the TV or that they have trouble seeing the blackboard at school, this is a red flag that tells you that they are likely becoming more nearsighted.   

What is myopia?

Myopia, pronounced (My-Ow-Pee-Ahh) is the medical term for nearsightedness.  Nearsighted simply means that someone CAN see better at near than off at a distance.  Just think of it as 2 separate words:  NEAR + Sighted.

How Can I Prevent or Slow My Child’s Myopia?

Identifying myopia early can help slow its progression and prevent serious eye diseases later in life. As a parent, here is what you can do to help prevent your child from developing this eye condition:

  • Bring your child for an assessment by a Behavioral Optometrist so that doctor can identify the underlying reason for the myopia. 
  • Some suggest limiting the amount of time your child spends on close work such as reading, homework, and screen time.  However, as explained above, that is not realistic and not practical.
  • Good Computer-work hygiene IS important.  Making sure that the computer is properly positioned and taking frequent screen breaks addresses the over-focusing problem.  The 20-20-20 rule is a good thing to do:  look across the room or through a window, at something 20 feet and beyond, for at least 20 seconds, every 20 minutes that you are working on the computer.   
  • Encourage outdoor time of at least 90 minutes a day, preferably in the sunshine. Be sure your child wears UV protected sunglasses.  Again, this is a good idea anyway, in or der to get physical activity, but those doctors that propose this, don't usually understand that it is not the outdoors that is preventing the myopia, but rather limiting the in-door use of computer and other near work.
  • Discuss myopia management with your eye doctor to slow and potentially stop the progression of your child’s myopia.  

How We Can Help Treat Myopia

If your child exhibits any myopia symptoms, schedule an eye exam with your eye doctor as soon as possible. Undetected myopia can cause many complications, whether academic, social, or emotional. Early diagnosis of myopia and other eye problems can improve your child’s performance in school, on the sports field, and can prevent serious sight-robbing eye diseases later in life. 

Furthermore, if your child is diagnosed with myopia, we can help slow its progression with myopia management. 

Our doctors work closely with each family and customize treatment programs for every child based on their unique needs. If you are concerned about your child’s myopia, schedule an assessment for myopia management to see if they can benefit from this life-changing treatment.

Answers to myopia include Orthokeratolgy, Vision Therapy, Special therapeutic eyeglasses, special myopia-controlling contact lenses such as MiSight and NaturalVue, Syntonic Phototherapy, and Atropine.  In our office, we offer ALL of those.  Some offices may offer some of those options.

To learn more about myopia management or to schedule an eye exam, contact Family Eye Care in Old Bridge, East Brunswick, Woodbridge, and Edison today!

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