April 19, 2014

Nearsightedness is becoming new norm

eye-chart-distance-eye-examA Wisconsin doctor is not worried about a recent British study showing smart-phones are to blame for increased occurrences of nearsightedness.

British researchers point to a 35 percent increase in myopia since 1997, when people began staring close-up at smart-phones, tablets, and other electronics. The scientists are calling the vision problem: “screen sightedness.” However, Dr. Amy Walker, an optometrist at UW Health, says it’s not an epidemic; it’s the new norm. “Whether it’s studying, whether it’s computer, whether it’s cell phones, I mean, we’re a near point society; we’re not farmers any more. We’re probably going to evolve into a being that’s more nearsighted than we were 100 years ago.”

Walker says closer “working distances” in general require higher accommodative demand, which can induce myopia. This is especially true for children, who have more toys and gadgets piquing their interest at close range. She says many factors in our daily lives — both environment and genetics — are contributing to stress on our eyes.

While a recent article focuses on nearsightedness, Walker says many of her patients present with visual signs of eye strain. Overuse of electronics is revealed in red, bloodshot, sore, dry eyes. Walker encourages moderation. “You know, I wish I could tell my adult patients they can keep working until midnight every night and they can come home and text and they can spend an entire day on the computer and then do some more computer at night. There’s a limit to our bodily function and we have to give our physiology and anatomy all a break.”

A good rule of thumb, she says: for every hour of study, an individual needs a ten-minute break. Parents should make sure kids have good balance between close-up indoor activities and frequent outdoor activities. The same advice goes for adults. Studies show the sun helps with myopia, but it’s uncertain as to whether it is the sunshine itself or the activity in the sun that reduces near point activities and therefore helping to reduce myopia.

AUDIO: Jackie Johnson report 2:13