Nearsightedness, also known as myopia, affects about 42 percent of Americans. Myopia is caused by improperly functioning eye muscles, making far objects appear blurred. Severe cases of myopia increase the risk of retinal detachment, premature cataracts and glaucoma, which can cause permanent vision loss and even blindness.
Many studies suggest that focusing on close work could have a greater effect on myopia than previously thought.
In one study, researchers found that more than half of college graduates had myopia, but among people who never enrolled in college, only a third were nearsighted, and only a quarter of those who never entered high school were myopic.
School-age children are especially at risk for worsening a mild case of myopia by spending hours working on a computer or using hand-held devices. Fortunately, there is a simple way to counteract this: by getting outside and letting the eyes focus on far objects each day.
In another study, nearly 40 percent of 6-year-olds who spent less time outside developed myopia, compared to 30 percent of those who spent 40 extra minutes outdoors each day – and those who did have myopia had milder cases than the ones who stayed indoors more.
As soon as parents notice that children have trouble reading at a distance, they should have their eyes examined by an ophthalmologist. If detected early, myopia can be lessened or reversed with reading glasses for close-up work, to encourage the eye’s focusing muscles to work properly. If left uncorrected, the eye muscles will lock in place, requiring corrective lenses for distance vision.
Spending time outdoors focusing on far objects and being exposed to beneficial UV light plays a significant role in the healthy development of children’s eyes. Make sure your children balance time spent using electronic devices with outdoor play or work.