Myopia, or near-sightedness, is becoming more common all over the world. A child with near-sightedness can see things up close clearly, but things farther away look blurry. Experts say that part of this growing problem is that kids spend too much time inside looking at things close to them instead of going outside to look at things far away.
What is near-sightedness?
Near sightedness is very common. About 5% of pre-schoolers, 9% of kids in school, and 30% of teenagers have it. But what worries experts is that its spread around the world has doubled in the last few decades, and eye doctors have seen a rise in myopia during the pandemic.
When the eyeball is too big from front to back, it can cause nearsightedness. Genes play a big role, but more and more research shows that there are also things that happen during development. Research shows that the risk of myopia increases with the number of years a person spends in school. This is why nerds are often thought to wear glasses. Even more reliable studies show that a child's risk of getting nearsightedness goes down if they spend time outside.
Why would being outside make a difference for people who are near-sighted?
Even though this is surprising, it does make some sense. The way kids live changes their bodies as they grow and change. For example, a child who isn't getting enough food might not grow as tall as they could have if they had better food. A child who gets fat as a child is much more likely to stay fat for the rest of his or her life. And a child who only looks at things up close might get used to this and lose some of his or her ability to see far away.
Being nearsighted has real consequences. Not only can it make it hard to do things like go to school or drive that require you to see more than a few feet away, but people with myopia are more likely to go blind or have their retinas pull away from the back of their eyes. Not all problems can be solved by putting on a pair of glasses.
How can a parent help?
Make sure your child spends time outside often—if possible, every day. This is the best way to make sure they look far away. It's also a great way to get them to move around more, get enough vitamin D, and learn some important life skills.
Try to keep your child from being too close to a screen for too long. A lot of schoolwork is done on screens these days, and kids spend way too much of their free time on screens instead of playing with toys, drawing, or doing other things. Have some ground rules. The American Academy of Paediatrics' says that kids shouldn't watch more than two hours of entertainment media a day, and they have a great Family Media Plan to help families do this.
Make sure your child's eyes are checked often. Most paediatricians do regular vision screenings, but it's important to remember that simple screenings can miss vision problems. By kindergarten, it's a good idea for your child to get a full eye exam from an ophthalmologist or an optometrist.
Call your child's paediatrician or eye doctor if you see signs of a possible vision problem, such as sitting close to the TV or holding devices close to the face, squinting, or complaining of trouble seeing or not being able to recognise objects far away (play "I Spy" and point out some far-away things when you go for a walk!)
avoiding or not liking activities that require close looking, like puzzles or reading, which can be a sign of hyperopia (farsightedness). tilting their heads to look at things. covering or rubbing an eye. one eye that turns inward or outward
Talk to your child's paediatrician if you have any questions or worries about how well your child can see.