Berkeley clinic offers help for nearsighted kids

The explosion of mobile devices is impacting the lives of children, but it could also be taking a serious toll on their eyesight.
November 5, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
The explosion of mobile devices and tablet computers is impacting the lives of a generation of children, but it could also be taking a serious toll on their eyesight as well.

Like most of her classmates, Yunfan Zhong likes to play games on the iPhone and says her classmates are no different. She said, "Almost everybody who has a smartphone has games on it."

And coupled with her voracious love of reading, Yunfan spends a significant amount of time in front of printed pages and small screens. It's a trend that experts like University of California researcher Christine Wildsoet, Ph.D., believe is contributing to the prevalence of myopia, or nearsightedness.

"If I were to survey all the students in my lab, there would be very few non-myopic students," says Wildsoet.

In fact, Yunfan has already been diagnosed with myopia. The problem has become so prevalent that the University of California has opened a dedicated Myopia Control Clinic at the School of Optometry. Assistant Professor Maria Liu, O.D., Ph.D., says one of the goals is to spot and treat near sightedness in some of the youngest patients.

"In the Myopia Control Clinic we're focusing on fast myopes and early onset myopes. Early onset myope is anyone developing myopia before age 10," Liu explains.

She says young patients are particularly vulnerable because their eyes are still developing.

In Yunfan's case, Liu is using a corrective device called an orthokeratology lens. It's a contact lens worn by patients while they're sleeping to flatten the center of the cornea and reduce mypopia.

"During the daytime they have clear vision from the corneal molding effect of the lenses and at the same time, benefit from myopia controlling," says Liu.

She adds that the lenses and other new technologies can help slow the progression of myopia significantly. But the problem is still growing. One study funded by the National Eye Institute found that severe myopia is now twice as prevalent among young adults compared to the elderly.

Doctors at the Berkeley clinic also counsel patients and families about the need to break up sessions spent with electronic devices, and even reading.

"So, usually, the rule of thumb for reading is an hour of reading requires a 10 minute break," Liu advises.

That is advice the Zhong family is already taking to heart. They've also instituted a system to ration the overall time their kids spend on smartphones and computer screens.

"For us, we try to give it to them as a kind of reward," says Qiqing Zhong, Yunfan's dad. "So I choose a limited time."

Some additional advice from the Berkeley team is while you're taking a break from reading or computer work, spend a few moments focusing your eyes into the distance. They say studies have also found that spending more time outdoors may also help protect against myopia.

For more information on the University of California myopia clinic click here.

Written and produced by Tim Didion


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