Vision Quest: 4 ways to protect your child's eyes and vision

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We went on a vision quest to help children who are in sports and activities that make it hard for them to wear eyeglasses or contacts. We found out about four ways that could make a big difference.  Doctors say children's actions may be making their eyesight worse.

Whether it's too much screen-time or genetics, corrective lenses can be tough on kids, especially for those who play sports.  "I used to get scared that they'd hit me with the ball in the face because if they do that - the glasses would fall and break, have to buy new ones, and it's more money", says ninth grader Keren Galeas. 

The same concerns for athlete and eighth grader, Ariana Arjona.  She and Keren opted for a non-surgical treatment for near-sightedness or myopia, called corneal moldings, that correct their vision while they sleep.  "Basically we're reshaping the cornea, which is the front part of the eye. We're doing that non-surgically, it is reversible, meaning it doesn't stay like that because the cornea is soft tissue, so it can reverse and mold it's very versatile and flexible, says Dr. Julio Arroyo, an Optometrist with Eye Health Consultants in The Woodlands. 

The girls say they adjusted quickly to corneal molds, which look somewhat like hard contact lenses.  "At first, it was a little uncomfortable, it would irritate my eye, but it was only for a couple of days, and then I got used to them and don't feel anything," says Ariana.

 Dr. Arroyo offers corneal molds and says it works for adults as well, but he says it's the best chance at stopping a child's eyes from getting worse.  "Because myopia is an epidemic and they're simply getting worse every year, it's giving us huge hope in preventing their eyes from getting worse, explains Dr. Arroyo.  "I like the moldings.  They're amazing, the best thing I've ever done in my life," exclaims Keren.  

 Moving now to UT's Cizik Eye Clinic, we met up with Dr. Gene Kim to learn about other ways to prevent near-sightedness in children.  "I remember Mom used to tell me, if you sit too close to TV - you'll need glasses later, turns out - that is actually true!  They've done studies that if kids are focusing on 'near' too much, their eyes kind of adjust to make them more near-sighted.  We can almost create our own near-sightedness," says Dr. Kim.  To prevent this from becoming a problem, Dr. Kim says take a break from all types of screen-time and books.  Plus keep as much distance, as possible, between you and the screen.

The third suggestion:  Go outside, or stay near windows, as often as possible, to protect your eyesight.  "Natural light prevents us from needing glasses. So in our world now, inside with florescent and computer and phone lighting, they filtered rabbit eyes and not another.  The one without fake light didn't become near-sighted.  It didn't grow and the eye that was exposed to fake light ended up growing," says Dr. Kim. Again, this study only in animals right now, but actions are already taking place because of the study.  "There are movements in other countries, like Singapore, as a movement to have kids play outside for at least an hour," explains Dr. Kim.  "Some of this might be simple design, where all of our elementary and middle schools have a lot of natural light, where you don't need to go outside, to counteract the body's stimulus to become more near-sighted," Dr. Kim states.  

A fourth way to possibly stop the progression of near-sightedness is happening at UT Health.  They're offering a study to children who wear glasses and want to stop their near-sightedness from worsening.  It involves a few eye drops each day!  "The early studies have basically shown that by using a drop twice a day, we can stop the progression of near-sightedness," says Dr. Kim.  That can be a big deal medically, not just aesthetically.  "The near-sightedness is so severe, the kids end up growing up and getting stretch marks and losing vision permanently because of nerve damage from these stretch marks," says Dr. Kim.

The drops are Atropine, a very weak version of medication that dilates the eyes. Dr. Kim says it mildly weakens the muscle so it will stop getting worse.