June 13, 2024

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Number of kids left with ‘elongated eyeballs’ and risking going blind soars across UK – how to keep your child safe

5 min read

SOARING numbers of kids are in danger of going blind because of too much time glued to their mobile phones, experts have warned.

British children are being forced to wear special contact lenses to prevent their eyeballs from getting bigger or changing shape.

Extended time looking at screens could trigger short-sightedness

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Extended time looking at screens could trigger short-sightednessCredit: Getty

Doctors are seeing an influx of teenagers with the worst possible score for short-sightedness (anything over -6D), resulting in “elongated eyeballs”.

The world is experiencing soaring rates of the condition, known as myopia, with an increase of 46 per cent in the UK over the last three decades.

It’s believed the recent rise stems from children straining to look at their phone screens instead of spending time outdoors looking at distant horizons.

Dr John Bolger, an ophthalmologist and director of a private eye clinic in London, is deeply worried and described the problem as a “serious threat”.

“There are more and more myopic children coming into the clinic – it’s going up and up,” he told the Mail on Sunday.

Bad cases of myopia in young people increase the chance of them developing macular degeneration by 41 per cent, studies suggest. 

Macular degeneration, of which one type is age-related, is a leading cause of blindness.  

According to the NHS, short-sightedness usually runs in families, but extended time looking at screens could trigger the condition, which happens when the eyeball grows slightly too long.

I have young patients with such severe short-sightedness that it makes their lives very hard

Dr Irfan Jeeva

This is because the muscles in the eye stretch, and the lens shifts, damaging how we focus on objects in the distance.

Ensuring children regularly spend time playing outside when they looking at things further away can help to reduce their risk.

Eye doctor reveals simple test to tell if you need glasses – so are you losing your eyesight

Dr Bolger said that children as young as four now wear contact lenses with very strong prescriptions.

Some of his young patients sleep wearing special contact lenses that change the cornea’s shape, which slows down the progression of the disease.

Last week, Prince William called for people to spend less time on their phones while visiting the opening of a new youth club in London.

He said: “The grown-ups are guilty of it too,” when one youngster confessed to doomscrolling for too long.

Dr Irfan Jeeva, an ophthalmologist at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said that in recent years he has also seen an increasing number of children needing glasses to correct their short-sighted vision.

“It is most definitely because of too much screen time,” he told the paper.

“I have young patients with such severe short-sightedness that it makes their lives very hard.”

TV presenter Myleene Klass, who suffers from the eye condition, previously said: “I’ve had myopia since I was four years old, and as I’ve got older, my eyesight has got progressively worse.

Myopia: signs, causes and treatments

Short-sightedness (myopia) is a very common eye condition where you cannot see objects far away clearly.

It’s usually corrected with glasses or contact lenses.

Short-sightedness usually starts in children from age six to 13. It can also happen in adults.

Signs you or your child may be short-sighted include:

  • Difficulty reading words from a distance, such as reading the whiteboard at school
  • Sitting close to the TV or computer or holding a mobile phone or tablet close to the face
  • Getting headaches
  • Rubbing the eyes a lot

What causes it?

Short-sightedness often runs in families, so you may have relatives who are also short-sighted.

It can get worse until the eye has stopped growing, at around 20 years of age.

Long periods of near work (such as reading and screen use) may contribute to myopia development and progression.

Researchers do not fully understand why this happens.

Spending more time on near work might mean your child will spend less time outdoors.

Treatment options

Short-sightedness can usually be treated with glasses or contact lenses.

These help your eyes focus correctly, so you can see distant objects more clearly.

Glasses are suitable for children and adults. Contact lenses are only suitable for adults and some children

An optician will advise you about the best option for your short-sightedness.

Surgery can improve sight in some adults, such as laser or lens surgery

“As a child, I would sit so closely to my sheet music or virtually on top of my workbooks at school.

“One thing that can cause myopia is extended time on gadgets and screens, which can lead to an increased risk of future eye health problems.

“So I’m always asking my kids about their vision and trying to limit screen time where I can.”

Short-sightedness has already become a major concern for the NHS, a fear compounded by a new study.

Scientists at University College London (UCL) saw the biggest spike in cases among adults and the highest academic achievers.

The London researchers suggested more time spent reading books at school and university could be to blame for the upward trend.

Around a third of Britons have myopia, which is becoming more common among children.

Last year, Myopia Focus launched a petition calling for more NHS funding to treat the epidemic level of childhood short-sightedness, which it called “a growing public health issue”.

How to keep your child’s eyes safe

Though there’s no cure for myopia, there are everyday steps you can take that can support your overall eye health.

These days, it’s especially important to set limits for your children (and yourself) on activities that lead to eye strain.

Try these sight-saving tips:

  • Limit time on digital devices
  • Take screen breaks to stretch your eye muscles
  • Don’t read or work in dim light
  • Go outdoors and wear sunglasses when you’re out
  • Wear protective eye gear for sports/hobbies
  • Schedule regular eye exams
  • Ask your provider about atropine eye drops to slow the progression
  • Ask your provider about dual-focus contact lenses to slow progression in kids

Source: The Cleveland Clinic

Prince William called for people to spend less time on their phones

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Prince William called for people to spend less time on their phonesCredit: Getty

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