A Winnipeg eye doctor says too much screen time and not enough sunlight is to blame for an alarming number of children being diagnosed with nearsightedness, or myopia, which she is calling an epidemic.
Shalin Bhattarai, 7, was on an iPad for up to seven hours a day since he was 3.
“Whenever he wanted to watch something, we used to give him iPad,” said Shalin’s dad, Sajal Bhattarai.
After a recommendation from a school teacher last year, Sajal brought his son to get his eyes checked, when he was diagnosed with nearsightedness.
“I was shocked,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it and I told her, ‘You should double check him.'”
Winnipeg optometrist Kaeleigh Carrick said at least half the patients she sees under the age of 18 need a prescription.
“We are definitely seeing an epidemic,” she said.
“Especially in kids and at a younger rate than we would normally see.”
People with myopia are at higher risk of developing eye conditions like retinal detachments, glaucoma and myopic degeneration.
Excessive screen time has not been directly linked to nearsightedness. However, Carrick is still urging kids to put down the tablet and spend more time outdoors.
“The only thing that’s been shown, actually, scientifically, to slow down progression or a trend toward nearsightedness is being outdoors in an environment of natural light.”
Sajal has taken note and now allows his son only half an hour of screen time daily.
“We focus on that outside part much more now because we are aware of it,” he said. “At the time we were not aware of it.”
Nearly 30 per cent of the Canadian population is nearsighted, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO).
According to CAO guidelines, no screen time is recommended for children under 2. Preschoolers should get no more than one hour of screen time. Children over 5 should have less than five hours in front of a screen. It also recommends kids avoid using a screen an hour before bed.
CAO recommends children have an eye exam by at least the age of 3 and consult with their optometrist on the latest options to help reduce the progression of nearsightedness.