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Are Electronic Devices Making Kids Nearsighted?

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Computers, tablets, cell phones – is all this focusing on tiny electronic devices taking a toll on our childrens' eyes?

"The parents come in here and say, 'oh, I was in sixth grade when I got glasses,'" said optometrist Dr. Tim Corcoran. This kid's in second grade and is having trouble with distance."

Morgan is 12-years-old, her distance vision started getting blurry last spring, which interfered with school.

"Like, in class, I sit in the back, so I really couldn't see the board," she said.

And with basketball: "If I'm on the bench during basketball, like, sometimes I can see what they're doing, but like, not all the time," she added. "It makes me frustrated, because like, I really want to see what's going on, but I can't."

Eye doctors have been seeing kids at younger ages coming in for glasses.

"So these kids come into here, now in second and third grade, where it used to be fifth, sixth, seventh grade," Corcoran said. "This culture of near work has produced this little more incidence of nearsightedness."

With normal vision, light rays get focused on the back of the eye, or retina, where vision is sensed. With myopia, or nearsightedness, the eyeball becomes too long. Light rays fall short of the retinal. As a result, distant images are 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."

While genetics does play a part, the environment could be an influence too.

In the 1970s, five in every 20 Americans were nearsighted. At the turn of the century, eight in 20 were.

It could be the strain of close work.

"I tell kids, I say, when you're doing your homework, punch yourself in the chin," Corcoran said. "The distance between the knuckles and the elbows is the perfect distance to be working. They almost feel like, oh, that's a little further than I'm used to."

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 doesn't prescribe glasses right away. Being nearsighted is helpful for school kids who need clear close vision for reading and test taking.

"It's not a bad adaptation to become nearsighted," Corcoran said. "It's actually helping us. It's less work up close."

"Once we put the prescription on there for the their distance vision, their eyes work a little harder up close," he added.

But there is a point at which glasses for distance 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.

Morgan is at that point, though she's reluctant to concede.

"I don't really want glasses," she said. "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."

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