Eye specialists concerned by kids' excessive screen use

Eye specialists say they're seeing more children than ever before with serious eye problems linked to excessive screen use.

They say urgent Government intervention is needed before it's too late.  

The inner tissue of a human eye is extremely delicate, and specialists say once damage begins, it's hard to stop. 

Young eyes are the most at risk of developing a severe form of myopia, which can lead to blindness as adults. 

Eye specialist Dr Antony Bedggood is seeing more children than ever before with the condition and says it's a real concern.   

"People are going to lose sight because we didn't deal with the problem now," he told Newshub. "So we need to deal with that problem or else we will be dealing with it 20 years down the track." 

Experts say there is no research directly linking screens with the development of myopia, but they do know prolonged periods of time spent inside playing on devices does damage eye health and children's health overall. 

The best protection against progressive myopia and for general eye health is to spend as much time as possible outdoors in natural light, getting used to the environment and its dimensions.

"It's really important for kids to be outside to support good eye health," Bedggod says. 

"Doing anything like playing sport, playing games... it protects your eyes from short-sightedness." 

But with the influx of screens in schools and the lack of legislation or monitoring around time spent on devices, it's left up to individual schools and parents to guess what's safe. 

"Adults in New Zealand actually have some protection against computer use in the workplace with WorkSafe," Sensible Screen Use founder Julie Cullen says. "But children who, because of their physiology and development, are actually at more risk don't have that protection." 

Manufacturers like Apple are aware of the problem, with the introduction of their new utility 'Screen Time' showing you how much time you've spent on the device. 

So is the World Health Organisation, with their new set of health guidelines recommending infants and one-year-olds shouldn't have any exposure to electronic screens. 

Children between the ages of two and four should only have up to one hour of "sedentary screen time" a day for healthy development. But there still aren't any guidelines for school-aged children. 

Now Kiwi parents like Lorna Simmonds, whose family history with myopia means her children are more at risk, want the Government to introduce guidelines. 

"I think it needs to be acknowledged that there are ever increasing amounts of screen time both at home and at school," she says. "I think the Ministry of Education needs to provide guidelines on how to set limits at school and how to reduce the risk."

Experts say the best way for parents to keep their kids' eyes healthy is to make them play outside for at least two hours a day or 15 hours a week.