WASHINGTON (SBG) - Stock up on electronics this holiday? Our obsession with tablets and phones may be helping to fuel a nationwide epidemic of nearsightedness – or myopia, as it’s called.
Edvin Berglund's distance vision began rapidly deteriorating three years ago.
"We were starting to get reports from school that he was having to be moved to the front of the class," said Edvin's father, Erik Berglund.
A little research led his parents to the University of Houston's myopia management clinic.
It is a first-of-its-kind clinic, offering treatments designed to slow the progression of nearsightedness.
Optometrist Dr. Kathryn Richdale confirmed Erik Berglund's fear; his son's screen time could be contributing to his nearsightedness.
The amount of 'near time' or time spent looking at phones, monitors and even books up close can cause the eye to grow longer.
More time focusing on what's right in front of us means less time spent looking off into the distance or into infinity.
In addition to environmental triggers, genetics also plays a role according to Richdale.
"One day I was coming back from school," said 8 year old Yu Wang. "It got a little blurry."
Mingxia Sun, who moved with her family from China just five years ago, knew it was only a matter of time before her son would be diagnosed with Myopia.
"In my family I have my mom, my brother, all with myopia," Sun said.
Myopia is common in China, as are the treatments to slow the progression of it.
Wang has been using one of those treatments: orthokeratology rigid lenses.
"You wear when you're sleeping," Richdale said. "It reshapes the eye almost like a retainer and then during the day they don't have to wear any glasses or contact lenses."
There is also a soft lens daywear option. Richdale tried those on Wang first.
"The soft lenses, I kept complaining, didn't feel right in the eyes," Wang said.
There is a risk of infection with both types of lenses, but Richdale said the risks associated with the eye conditions that can result from nearsightedness, like macular degeneration and retinal detachment are greater.
While these treatments have been done in Asia for years, they are not yet FDA approved in the U.S when it comes to slowing the progression of myopia.
"Right now we use all of these treatments, what's called "off label," Richdale said. "So, as long as we have an educated discussion with the patients about the risks and benefits, we can prescribe these."
For Edvin, the orthokeratology lenses are both therapeutic and functional. He readily admits he has no plans to slow down when it comes to sports or screen time.
An estimated 42 percent of Americans are nearsighted, which is more than 130 million people.
Click here for more information from the University of Houston's Myopia Management Service.