Don't blame smart phones for increase in child nearsightedness - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Don't blame smart phones for increase in child nearsightedness

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Doctors are seeing an increase in nearsightedness in children and there is a growing debate over whether it may be related to smart phone use.

Recent studies show there may be a simple solution that can protect your child's eyesight.

Dr. Henry O'Halloran has been an ophthalmologist for more than 20 years. He treats children with nearsightedness in his office at Rady Children's Hospital.

Nearsightedness means you can focus on close objects clearly, but need glasses to see far away objects. The onset of nearsightedness typically happens between ages 9 and 11.

"As they (children) grow taller, their eyeballs get bigger and they can switch into nearsightedness," said Dr. O'Halloran.

For decades, doctors have seen a steady increase in nearsightedness in children. And, kids have a greater chance of being nearsighted if their parents are nearsighted.

But recent studies point to another possible cause indirectly related to the use of smart phones and computers.

"Smart phones are just the latest incarnation of things that people have worried about as a cause for nearsightedness for the past 400 years," said Dr. Donald Mutti, a Ohio State University professor of optometry.

Dr. Mutti conducted a study in 2007 that showed children who spent more time indoors had a higher rate of nearsightedness. Moreover, the simple act of spending more time outdoors helped prevent nearsightedness in children, according to Mutti's research.

"The thinking is that that bright visible light stimulates a release of a substance called dopamine from the retina itself, and that dopamine sets off a cascade of effects that slows down the growth of the eye," said Dr. Mutti.

Since most kids use their smart phones indoors, it can put them at risk of developing nearsightedness, Mutti said.

"I don't think it matters what they're doing indoors," Mutti said. "It's not the electronic devices or television or computer use or video games that happen indoors; I think it's the simple fact of being indoors."

The solution, according to Mutti, simply let your child play outside for at least two hours a day.

And while not all doctors agree that spending time outside can entirely prevent nearsightedness, there are other benefits, as well.

"Time outdoors usually equates to play time, which is physical activity, physical exercise," said Dr. O'Halloran. "And, exercise is very important for everybody, especially children."

Research studies in Asia also show that spending more time outside can prevent nearsightedness, but only in younger children. Once the child gets older and develops nearsightedness, the condition cannot be reversed, according to the research.

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