Increased vision problems in kids, traced to technology

NOW: Increased vision problems in kids, traced to technology

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The holiday shopping season has officially started. Parents may already be thinking about gifts that Santa may bring their kids this year.

Popular gift items tend to be a new computer or the latest iPhone.

But that may not be the best choice for children.

One South Bend opthalmologist is seeing a huge increase of children, coming in with nearsightedness.

ABC57 News spoke with a Michiana mom, and an eye doctor, who want others to know what the latest gadgets can do to their kids vision.

"Julianna is extremely near-sighted," says Jennifer Payne. "She's actually had glasses since she was eight months old."

Julianna is now eight-years-old and has suffered from vision problems, and severe nearsightedness, since she was born.

She's quite used to wearing glasses and visiting the eye doctor every six months or so. 

"I wear them almost all the time," Julianna says. "I can see just fine when things are near me."

But if things are far from her, it's a different story.

"It's blurry or fuzzy," she explains.

Her struggles prompted her mom to take a second glance, at how to protect her kids' eyes.

She learned the best thing, was to limit their access to phones, TVs, and tablets.

"That's something you don't want to mess around with, you vision," says Payne. "I think parents should just be very careful and exercise caution. It's easy to kind of be mindless about it, and say 'okay, go watch a show."

"On Fridays, we watch things on TV for a prize," adds Julianna. "And sometimes we watch it as a special treat."

It's something a lot of parents don't think about. 

The effects of sticking kids in front of a screen, can have long term effects, says Dr. Steve Gerber. 

"The phone is literally right there. That's why we're seeing this explosion of myopia," he explains. "They're doing more near stuff at an even younger age, and that's when they're more susceptible."

He's the Payne's eye doctor.

He is seeing almost double the amount of kids, and adults, who come in with nearsightedness.

"It's amazing how many younger kids I'm seeing right now, from like 4-10, who are nearsighted and needing glasses already," he says. "It's much higher than it was in the past."

This much of a vision problem, at such a young age, is troubling to Gerber.

He's worried for the future.

"[Extreme nearsightedness leads to] higher rates of having cataracts and glaucoma, which are two serious eye diseases," explains Gerber. "The real one to be worried about is retinal detachment."

These things progress fast, and he's not sure where it will lead.

"They're only kids now, and we have a lot of years ahead of us to see the complications," he adds.

There is no way to cure extreme nearsightedness, and vision gets worse over time.

Julianna has spent the last 10 months taking a special eye drop treatment.

The drops, taken daily, slows down the progress significantly.

She used to change her glasses prescription every six months.

But, ever since her treatment, which started in January, she hasn't needed new glasses.  

Prevention is crucial, Gerber says, especially because there is no permanent solution.

Payne adds that she didn't have control over Julianna's vision, but other parents do. 

"I feel a little upset knowing what potential outcome there could be," she explains. "I would do anything that I could to protect my child's eyesight, even if that's just controlling my child's screen time."

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