Myopia increase attributed to time spent indoors

Cameron Morelli, Editor-in-Chief

Many people around the world begin to notice that they have blurry distance vision during their childhood, adolescence or early adulthood. This condition called myopia, more commonly known as nearsightedness, seems to be rapidly increasing in prevalence around the globe, causing many scientists to fear that the world may have a myopia epidemic on its hands in the near future.

Myopia, caused by elongation of the eyeball that makes the light from distant objects focus slightly in front of the retina, usually develops during childhood and can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses or surgery. According to an article published by the journal “Nature,” myopia “now affects around half of young adults in the United States and Europe — double the prevalence of half a century ago.”

Such a rapid increase in the number of people affected by myopia has led scientists to attempt to discover the cause of this condition through research and experimentation.

Until recently, myopia was believed to be caused by activities that involve focusing on close up objects such as reading and staring at computer or television screens. Some scientists, however, now speculate that myopia is caused by a lack of time spent outdoors in the sunlight.

Due to the popularity of the theory that too much television and reading causes myopia, many nearsighted Bear Creek students are reluctant to believe this new theory.

“That’s what I learned when I was younger,” senior Erica Ramos said. “They said that watching TV up close and using technology and all that is pretty much the cause of nearsightedness.”

Nonetheless, many students have noticed the increase in nearsighted children simply through their own observations.

“I’ve seen a lot more kids in elementary school classes with glasses,” freshman Marino Dominguez said, “I don’t think it will become an epidemic, but I know there’s definitely going to be a lot more kids with [myopia] and with glasses on.”

It is possible that sunlight prevents the elongation of the eyeball that results in myopia. According to “Nature’s” article, “light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development.”

Although there is no current extensive research and experimentation on this hypothesis, scientists have conducted a few studies that support the theory that sunlight exposure protects against the development of myopia.

In one study that was administered at a children’s school in Taiwan, teachers instructed their students to spend their entire 80 minute break time outside instead of allowing them to spend the break inside. One year later, only eight percent of these children were diagnosed with myopia in comparison to 18 percent of children at a nearby control school that developed the condition.

Although an individual’s genes impact his or her susceptibility to the condition, changes in genetics occur too slowly to be responsible for the rapid increase in the prevalence of myopia; many scientists agree that an environmental change, possibly the general decrease in time that children spend outside, is responsible for this increase.

“I don’t think kids play much outside anymore because now they have more things to do inside like play video games,” Dominguez said.

The excessive time that children spend looking at computer, tablet and smartphone screens may indirectly cause myopia if the time they spend using technology causes them to be shut away inside and out of the outdoor sunlight.