As the number of students needing prescription eyeglasses rises in America, it begs the question, are electronic devices damaging our children’s eyes?
Pittsburgh optometrist Dr. Tim Corcoran says more and more parents who got glasses in middle school, are coming in with elementary age children saying they have a hard time with distance. He says the “culture of near work has produced this little more incidence of near sightedness”.
With normal vision, light rays are focused on the back of the eye (retina) which is where vision is sensed. In near sightedness or myopia, the eyeball becomes too long and light rays fall short of the retinal. This causes distant images to be blurry.
“It’s the length of the eye,” Corcoran said. “It’s the curvature on the front surface of the eye that determines how light focuses in the back. So nearsighted parents will likely have nearsighted kids.”
Dr. Maria Simbra of CBS Pittsburgh reports that while genetics is important, the environment may also play a part. Decades ago in the 1970’s five in every 20 Americans were nearsighted, today eight in 20 are. The issue could be the amount of close work. Corcoran tells children to “punch yourself in the chin” when doing homework, because the “distance between the knuckles and the elbow is the perfect distance to be working”.
It could be that indoor activity cuts down on bright light exposure. Light stimulates the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine can keep the eyeball from lengthening, as you would see with nearsightedness. “The other thing we can do is go outside,” Corcoran said. “We’re a culture of inside. There are studies that have been done in Scandinavia. Those are outdoor cultures. Those kids are becoming nearsighted at a much less rate than the American kids are.”
Corcoran says that being nearsighted is helpful for kids who need close clear vision for test taking and reading and does not prescribe glasses right away. He says that adapting to being near sighted is not bad, and could actually help the students. There is a point though when prescription glasses become necessary.
“In the classroom, when the kid is squinting, or the teacher notices this kid is moving up to get his assignments off the board,” Corcoran said.
12-year-old student Morgan is at that point, though she is reluctant to get glasses. Her distance vision started getting blurry last spring, which interfered with school, and basketball. Despite this, she says, “I don’t really want glasses. But, like, if I have to have them, then I might wear them. I have braces and I don’t really want braces and glasses.”