The Blurry Worry: Is modern technology driving an epidemic of nearsightedness?

Watch #LiveOnKMTR NBC 16 Wednesday, May 16, at 6:30 p.m. for more on this story

NOLENSVILLE, Tenn. - Anna Martinez discovered the change after her daughter had some struggles in school.

"I started to see her grades fall down in kindergarten," she said.

Anna's daughter, Mariah, is now in 5th grade.

"I can't see far. It's kind of blurry," she said. "I can see something like wiped down."

The solution?

"As soon as we got the glasses," Anna said, "her grades came up."

The cause? Myopia, also known as nearsightedness.

It's not an uncommon condition.

In face, it's doubled in prevalence with the current generation of youth.

And while glasses can correct vision, what is driving the change in the first place?

"You go to restaurant and you see everybody is looking at this," Dr. Ming Wang said, holding a cellphone. "Everybody is looking at this. You go to dinner everybody is looking at this. You go to public place, everybody is looking at this, and you say: that dramatic change of behavior must have some consequence."

Are we en route to myopia epidemic? And if so: Are our smartphones, computers, tablets and other screens to blame?

Many studies show it does, with myopia affecting half of young adults in the US and Europe - twice as many than 50 years ago.

"That's a pretty large amount of people," Anna Martinez said, "and it's even going to get worse and worse the more they're on their gadgets."

Having the world at our fingertips, research estimates that a third of the world will have myopia by 2020, which is about 2.5 billion people.

One of the world's leading myopia researchers, Australia's Dr. Padmaja Sankaridurg, says we're on a path toward a myopia epidemic.

"It's absolutely true," said Dr. Wang. "Because of the cell phone eye syndrome, which is an established scientific problem, we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg."

The closer we hold it, the harder our eyes have to work to maintain this fixed focal length, and the more long term damage we can cause. Doctors say that just like any part of the body we over use, it's quicker to wear out.

Researchers say that the eye actually starts to change shape, to grow and elongate, when we started to constantly focus on near objects. This structural change, which stretches the retina, makes your more at risk for retinal detachment later in life, as well as glaucoma. For middle aged people, this practice can also speed u p presbyopia, where you suddenly can't read things close up.

An easy solution to help combat this is developing what Dr. Wang calls the 20-20-20 eye care habit.

"Meaning 20 minutes of cell phone or computer work, take a break, meaning looking at an object or a tree or something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds," said Dr. Wang.


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