LEAWOOD, Kan. — America is seeing an eye-opening increase in nearsightedness. It’s about 60 percent more common than it was 40 years ago.
Anna Punswick is seeing clearly with her new contact lenses. The 11-year-old has needed glasses since she was five. Anna’s part of an epidemic of nearsightedness with four out of 10 teens and adults now affected.
Myopia, as it’s also called, starts in childhood. Multiple studies point to kids spending less time outdoors as one possible reason for the increase. Sunlight is believed to aid in the release of chemicals that prevent the growth of the eye that leads to myopia.
Dr. Trudi Grin, a pediatric eye specialist in Leawood, has this advice for parents.
“I tell them to send their kids outdoors, and I always ask, ‘How much time does your child spend on the iPad or on video games?’,” said Dr. Grin.
She advises limiting screen time since studies suggest prolonged use of near vision may also be a factor.
“Clearly there’s also a family connection for us, too, so who knows whether it’s nature or nurture?” said Karen Punswick, Anna’s mother.
Dr. Grin said the increase is concerning because many kids will become severely nearsighted. A new report in the journal Ophthalmology finds nearly 10 million adults are in the severe range. Their vision is -6 diopters or worse. That puts them at higher risk for other eye problems.
“You’re more likely to have holes or tears or detachment of the retina. You’re more likely to have glaucoma develop or cataracts,” said Dr. Grin.
Researchers said severe nearsightedness results in problems for many that can’t be fixed with just glasses or contacts.
The drug atropine may slow myopia, but it has side effects in the typical concentration. Researchers are studying whether low doses will work.