As the pandemic pushed students to online learning, screen time on computers, phones and video games increased dramatically. And a Highlands Ranch eye-care provider says eye doctors are seeing the consequences with a surge in cases of myopia in children, a condition that can be corrected if diagnosed and treated early.
Myopia, also known as nearsightedness, is a condition that starts in school-aged children and is caused by accelerated eye growth. This not only impacts a child’s ability to see clearly and perform their best but also increases the risk of contracting serious eye diseases, including glaucoma, cataracts and retinal detachments, when they get older.
A new study stemming from China, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that home confinement during the pandemic has created a significant increase in myopia for children aged 6 to 8 years, with the frequency of myopia cases tripling in 2020 compared to the previous 5 years.
Dr. Lawrence Jacobs, owner of Highlands Ranch HD Eye Care, said as families complied with restrictions due to COVID-19, children played outside less and spent a lot more time looking at a bright electronic screen. This increase in screen time has had a negative impact on the eye, he said.
Jacobs said myopia has always been more common than people realize, noting that doctors have consistently treated the symptoms rather than the condition over the years.
“We have been updating prescriptions each year for being nearsighted, having blurry vision and squinting to see,” Jacobs said. “All of these are symptoms of myopia. With advanced technology, we have the capability to treat myopia cases for children when they are as young as six months old, all the way to their 20s.”
Looking to improve the level of care in treating myopia, Jacobs said Highlands Ranch HD Eye Care, which is part of Treehouse Eyes, has launched a myopia treatment center to provide families and children with the proper resources to combat and mitigate the condition along the Front Range.
Part of offering proper treatment for myopia, Jacobs said, meant investing in the proper equipment to diagnose and evaluate patients. The Highlands Ranch clinic, located at 8677 S Quebec St., Suite A, is now equipped with an Axial Leamigh Machine, which allows doctors to better estimate the physiologic elongation of ocular axial length in myopic children.
While treatment for myopia is not new, Jacobs said it is becoming more affordable for parents as technology advances. While Treehouse Eyes has made the designation for Highlands Ranch HD Eye Care to treat myopia official, Jacobs has been helping children for several years.
Castle Rock resident Amy Drotar said she and her mother were severely nearsighted, starting when both were in middle school. As Jacobs said is common, the two were prescribed prescriptions for glasses and contacts without actually getting treated for the condition during childhood.
Myopia is not something that can be fixed as patients reach adulthood. Jacobs explained that once a person is in their later 20s, the eyes have fully grown, making it impossible to treat myopia.
Amy said when she had her daughter, Shannon Drotar, she knew a day would come where she too would suffer from nearsightedness. When Shannon was in seventh grade, around the year 2015, Amy said she took her to see Jacobs, who explained that there is specialized treatment to help children with myopia.
“In our family, once your vision started going, it was just a downward spiral,” Amy said. “When Dr. Jacobs explained this treatment where my daughter would be able to wear a retainer lens on her eyes only at night and would be able to see fine during the day — I thought he was crazy.”
To treat myopia, Jacobs said there are a few treatment options, including using a lens retainer at night while sleeping and eye drops. Like a retainer for the teeth, the lens retainer is worn through the night, helping shape the eye, allowing the child to have perfect vision during the day.
As far-fetched as it sounds, Amy said the treatment has worked.
Shannon, now 19, said at first the lens was uncomfortable, but eventually her eyes adjusted, and she does not even notice them while she sleeps. She gets a new prescription each year as her eyes have changed but will not require more expensive eye care and is in less danger of advanced eye-disease issues as she gets older.
According to Treehouse Eyes, treatment with the retainer lens and in-office exams for children has resulted in a 78% decrease in the progression of myopia in kids and teens versus non-treatment.
Jacobs said Highlands Ranch HD Eye Care is offering a free myopia exam for patients who have proof of a regular eye exam with is office or another eye doctor.
For more information, visit the Highlands Ranch HD Eye Care website at hdeyecare.com.