Does early childhood reading cause myopia?

Video games are leading to more myopia in children, according to the President of China, who has called for restricted access to video games among children.

girl reading Junie B. Jones

Whether China’s President Jinping Xi is right or wrong, he reminds me of another possible cause of myopia:  reading as a young child.  But is there any proof that reading leads to nearsightedness?

Some eye doctors think so, but the evidence is not conclusive.  Many causes might lead to nearsightedness.

Heredity plays a role, but how much of a role is not understood.  In my case, my mother wore glasses, and when I was in fourth grade, I too needed glasses.  Some of my brothers and sisters also needed glasses as children, but others didn’t.  My husband didn’t wear glasses until he was 50, and both of our sons  don’t need glasses.  Yet our daughter, like me, needed glasses as a child.

If a child reads a lot, the strain of deciphering small type and of focusing on tiny symbols for long stretches of time might lead to nearsightedness.  But for other children, it might not.  All of my brothers and sisters read a lot, but only some of us needed glasses in childhood or early adulthood.  It could be that a child who prefers to read does not get enough exercise or enough time in natural sunlight.  Research is needed to show whether reading is a cause of myopia.

Researchers have learned that children who are prescribed eye glasses for myopia tend to have their eyesight worsen in childhood.  But this finding has led to research on how to stop the reversal or even to backtrack it.

Atropine eye drops can help slow down myopia progression for about a year or so, but after that the effect of the drops diminishes.  These drops dilate the eye and relax the eye’s focusing process.

Gas permeable contact lenses worn at night can temporarily relieve myopia the following day.  Over time, researchers think wearing these lenses might slow myopia progression.

Doctors using multifocal contact lenses on children find these lenses help with myopia.  These lenses have different powers in different zones of the lenses.

Multifocal eyeglasses worn by children have also helped slow the progression of myopia, but they are less effective than multifocal contact lenses.

Can you prevent myopia in your child?  We don’t know, but eye specialists recommend these actions:

Make sure your child’s eyes are tested annually by an eye doctor even if the child is not complaining of eye sight problems.

When the child reads or does other highly focused eye activities, make sure the child takes breaks and uses the eyes for longer distance activities before he or she returns to focused activities, like reading.

Choose high index (thinner and lighter) eyeglass lenses.  Have them made with an anti-reflective coating.  Photochromic lenses will protect eyes from UV and blue light.

I would add, seek out larger type children’s books which are easier on the eyes.  Limit the time your child reads from backlit electronic equipment (monitors, tablets and smart phones, Kindles and Nooks).  Have the child read in good lighting.  Have your child wear sunglasses outdoors, and weather permitting, insist that your child spend time outdoors playing.

And make sure your bookworm doesn’t take a flashlight to bed and sneak extra reading time under the covers.

 

 

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