Waco optometrist helps slow progression of nearsightedness in children after the pandemic may have increased condition

Published: Aug. 17, 2022 at 7:54 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Waco optometrists are helping slow the progression of nearsightedness among children after noticing faster progression of the condition and an increase in pediatric patients with the condition following the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jackie Dominguez’s daughter is one of the many children whose eyes got progressively worse months after the pandemic started. Her daughter already had glasses before the COVID-19 pandemic started.

“She got glasses I want to say at the age of like five or six,” Dominguez said. “Ever since, she’s had glasses.”

She said her daughter initially had 20/20 vision with glasses on, but that turned into 20/50 vision during the pandemic.

“I think, before COVID, there wasn’t as much screen time, and, then, when everything got crazy, they were trying to figure out how to still teach kids safely,” Dominguez said. “So, the only option was basically to do it online or do it on iPads. It’s not like it was a bad thing, necessarily, but it definitely took a toll on their eyes.”

This is when she started taking her daughter to Waco Vision Source’s “Treehouse Eyes,” which is a treatment plan to slow down the progression of nearsightedness.

Dominguez’s daughter has been on that plan for about a year.

“It worries you as a mom, especially because I know what it’s like to not be able to see, so, to know that there was an option to not, necessarily, stop it but slow it down so it doesn’t get to that point with something that I thought I really should do, that I really need to do something to help her,” she said.

Dominguez’s daughter is the only child struggling with this condition.

About 28% of children in the area are diagnosed with nearsightedness, or myopia. This means 12,000 children between the ages of six and seventeen are nearsighted.

Dr. Rebekah Sandders, a Waco optometrist, said children’s eyes grow between ages six and twelve. This is a detrimental phase to their eyes. When children’s eyes grow longer than they are supposed to, they develop nearsightedness.

When children are nearsighted, they cannot see far away. Sanders said research shows that the condition may be caused when children focus their eyes on screens for too long.

She also said she has noticed an increase in younger patients and patients getting progressively worse than usual. Sanders said her some of her patients’ eyes changed about three times more than they would in a typical year.

Noticing the trends, Waco Vision Source paired with Treehouse Eyes to help slow and manage nearsightedness among children.

“What we do is if we see risk factors or if the prescription has changed more than we are comfortable with, we bring the patient back in with their parents,” Sanders said. “We’ll reassess a lot more risk factors than just the traditional things we find in an exam. We will measure the length of the eye so we can actually tell how long the eye is. We’re not just basing it off of prescription. And then, with all of those risk factors, we will figure out if we need to do myopia management.”

Sanders hopes Treehouse Eyes will help more children like Dominguez’s daughter because it can be a constant struggle for students who are trying to learn.

“It can definitely impact the daily life of a kid,” she said. “If they are not able to see appropriately, they’re going to have learning problems. They’re not going to be able to see the board across the room. Sometimes there are social aspects as well.”

Sanders said that children may not bring it to your attention that they cannot see at school, so it’s important to recognize symptoms, including headaches, squinting, rubbing eyes or furrowing eyebrows.

She said usually the clinic notices a normal rise in patients on the first few weeks of school because parents start to notice these signs that their child might need glasses.

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