By Karen Borta

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Is your child having problems with their eyesight? If so, you are not alone. Younger kids are reporting eye problems, and now doctors think that they might know one reason for the increase in patients, and what parents can do to help.

Levi Zeilan loves to play video games. “Games are basically my life,” he said.

But the boy’s mom believes that video games are why he is nearsighted. “Two of my boys are heavy gamers, and those are the two that wear glasses,” stated mother Kristan Willingham. “I don’t know if there’s a direct correlation, but it seems pretty reasonable that there well could be.”

The National Eye Institute said that, overall, nearsightedness has increased by almost 66 percent since the 1970s. Doctors have added that many children who regularly play video games do develop problems with nearsightedness. “There’s no question,” optometrist Dr. Howard Purcell said. “The eye care community has noticed a significant surge in visual fatigue.”

Dr. Purcell said that his patients are getting younger and younger.

Too much time in front of screens is part of the problem, but so is being too close to screens. “I tell kids, I say, when you’re doing your homework, punch yourself in the chin,” said optometrist Dr. Tim Corcoran. “The distance between the knuckles and the elbows is the perfect distance to be working. They almost feel like, ‘Oh, that’s a little further than I’m used to.'”

The eye is made up of six muscles, and all of them need to be exercised. “If I’m always focusing at one distance, it’s as if I’m exercising one muscle at a time. Not a good thing,” said Dr. Purcell.

And it is also just as important to relax the eyes. “If I’m spending two, three, four hours on a device up close, I better be spending two, three, four hours allowing my eye to relax and look at a distance,” explained Dr. Purcell. “It’s called the 20-20-20 rule, and I think it’s a simple one to remember. Every 20 minutes, take a 20 second break, look 20 feet or further away.”

“A simple rule like that will help you from getting the fatigue and discomfort,” added Dr. Purcell.

Not enough time outside could also be part of the problem. The lighting outdoors is different and brighter from that found indoors. In fact, one study found that, for every hour spent outside, a child’s chances of getting nearsightedness decreases by two percent.

So, if your child is squinting, rubbing their eyes and getting headaches, seek help from a doctor. “He doesn’t have problems seeing the board. He can actually read at school,” said Willingham. “He can pay attention a little more because his vision is in place.”

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