Gets Real: Nearsightedness rising among children; uptick in screen time blamed

SEATTLE — There’s something else we can blame on COVID-19. There has been a dramatic uptick in the number of children who are now nearsighted. It’s mostly due to the uptick in screen time during the pandemic.

By one estimate, a third of Seattle children between ages 6 and 17 years old are myopic, or nearsighted.

In fact, so many children are now nearsighted, they are being called the “myopia generation.”

The early diagnosis could affect a child’s vision throughout their lives.

Dr. Sorena Kaur began noticing a difference in her young patients’ vision in the months since the COVID-19 lockdowns.

“It used to be that when you get to be college age that you start to have trouble with vision,” said Kaur.

But an alarming number of her younger patients are nearsighted, largely, she believes, because of the huge increase in screen time.

“When people are concerned about becoming too myopic, the problem that happens is the eyeball gets longer back to front,” Kaur said, holding a replica of an eyeball. “And so, back here where the retina is, we see more eye disease. The retina is stretched to cover that longer eyeball, thereby putting them at risk for retinal detachment.”

It was on a trip to Europe before her daughter started fourth grade that Blythe Chandler noticed it.

“And I noticed that in looking at paintings in museums, she was squinting a lot,” Chandler said. “And so that’s what caused me to bring her to get her eyes checked.”

Dr. Kaur prescribed glasses. The difference was immediate.

“She told me on the way home, ‘I can see all of these street signs; I didn’t know you could read street signs,’” Chandler said, laughing.

Kaur says kids’ screen time should be limited as much as possible.

“Being outside is good,” she advises. “And if you get an eye exam young and we start to notice that the child is becoming myopic, then we can intervene and try to change the trajectory of development.”

The better that your child can see.