Increased screen time causing rise in childhood myopia

There is a new epidemic hitting kids right in the eye and it may be a symptom of all that screen time.

The numbers are skyrocketing for myopia, a condition that allows people to see things clearly up close, but distant objects are blurry. It is also known as nearsightedness.

But a new center just for kids has opened up in Bethesda and Tysons Corner to help.

Dr. Andrew Morgenstern is examining a child looking for signs of myopia. More and more children are developing the irreversible eye condition these days. So what is causing it?

Doctors say it is due to increased screen time and less time outdoors. Researchers don't know for sure, but say there is something about sun exposure that helps with eye development while something about the screens are having a detrimental effect.

"Screen time is a reality for our children," said Dr. Erin Stahl, a pediatric myopia expert. "My kids at least are handed iPads at school. They use them a lot during the day and then they are expected to do homework at night. And then you have the addition of playing video games or texting friends, so screen time isn't going away."

She said the key is catching it early.

"Up until now, it's always just been treated with glasses, and in children, it gets worse over time," Dr. Stahl said.

Treehouse Eyes, a brand new center and the only one in the country focused only on myopia, treats the problem with prescription eye drops or special contacts to help stop the progression.

"The younger you are when you start to become nearsighted, the higher the likelihood that you will become more severely nearsighted later in life," said Dr. Morgenstern.

"The incidence of myopia has increased 60 percent in the last 30 years," Stahl said.

"As an eye doctor in Washington D.C., it's alarming. It's really alarming," Morgenstern said.

Doctors say acting early, a few drops of prevention and limiting screen time where possible while promoting outside play can all go a long way in protecting your vision long-term.

Dr. Stahl said she tells her patients to watch their screen time and make it meaningful. She also recommends outdoor play because it is good for visual development and overall development.