SCREEN TIME and KIDS. Does screen time cause nearsightedness to get worse? Can you tell my son/daughter to stop playing games on his/her phone? Is screen time bad? These, and others like them, are common questions that parents ask us frequently. Follow us as we embark on a mini-series to investigate what’s true and what’s myth based on clinical research and personal experience working with many families and their children. Let others know about this. You, and they, will find it interesting and helpful. Here’s a starter:
The World Health Organization recommends that children between the ages of 5 to 17 years engage in moderate-to-vigorous exercise for one hour per day because of the health benefits to developing children. Interestingly, even this daily exercise does not reverse the negative effect of too much screen time. In a study involving over 1000 U.S. children ages 6 to 15 years of age who exercised at least 1 hour per day, more TV watching was still associated with worse physical strength.
If a normally-sighted child has two or more moderate risk factors for nearsightedness, then he/she should be evaluated every six months. If two or more risk factors are high, then active treatment to slow down the progression of myopia is recommended. If a child is already myopic, active treatment is recommended and he/she should be monitored every six months. Increasing nearsightedness not only requires thicker and thicker glasses, but it increases the risks of other eye diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma and retinal holes and tears.
Another risk factor for developing nearsightedness is the amount of time spent doing near vision tasks such as reading, writing, drawing, computer work and handheld games. Depending on the amount of time spent, your child may be subjecting himself to low, moderate or high risk of myopia.
The amount of time spent outdoors in daylight is also a risk factor for developing, and worsening, nearsightedness. Depending on the amount of time spent in daylight, you may be subjecting yourself to low, medium or high risk of myopia.
Here’s another risk factor for developing nearsightedness – focusing inaccuracy. If a child displays inadequate focusing levels, then he or she will be either at moderate or high risk for developing, and worsening, myopia.
Another risk factor for developing nearsightedness is a young child’s refractive status. If a child’s visual status is less than age normal, then he/she is at medium risk for developing myopia in the future. If a child is already myopic at a young age, then he/she is at high risk for increasing nearsightedness. Prescriptions can continue to change until the age of 22 years old for most people.
Research shows that there are many factors that contribute to the development of nearsightedness. There is not just one element that causes myopia. Consequently, we should not view any one factor as the singular cause of nearsightedness, but rather we should understand that it’s one piece of the puzzle. One of the known risk factors is family history. If you have one parent who is myopic, then the children are 3X’s more likely to develop nearsightedness. If both parents are nearsighted, then the children are 6X’s more likely to develop myopia.
Yet another reason to try to slow down how quickly nearsightedness increases is the risk of retinal detachments. Myopia, or nearsightedness, increases the risk of a retinal detachment by 4X-16X’s; the higher the prescription, the higher the risk. The retina is the tissue in the back of the eye that contains all of the nerves, cells and blood vessels that help you see. Surgery can be performed for retinal detachments. However, clinical studies show that patients who have had retinal detachment surgery complain about lower quality of life afterwards. In other words, the surgery was physically successful. However, the patients still suffered decreased quality of life due to visual difficulties afterwards.
Another reason to slow down the progression of nearsightedness is the increased risk of glaucoma. Nearsightedness, or myopia, increases the risk of glaucoma by 4x’s. Glaucoma slowly kills the nerves in the eyes, and is a leading cause of blindness. If someone develops glaucoma, he won’t even notice any changes in how he sees until 30%-50% of the nerves have already died.