(WGHP) — Eye exams have become second nature for Madelynn Gore, 11, of Winston-Salem. A couple of years ago, she and her family learned that she can’t see very well. No one was expecting it. 

“It was at a doctor’s appointment, actually, a wellness visit,” Ladema Gore said. “She hadn’t really complained at all to us, and they did the eye check, and we realized she’s as blind as a bat in one of her eyes.”

Dr. Juawana Hall of Hillcrest Vision has been a practicing optometrist in Winston-Salem for 17 years. Over the last few years, she’s noticed a change.

“When the pandemic hit and everyone went inside and all of school and work and everything was on a screen, we saw a significant increase in nearsightedness and in the rate of change of children who were already nearsighted,” said Dr. Hall. 

It’s a trend optometrists across the nation are seeing as children spend a lot more time on smartphones, tablets and computers.

“The eye is going to respond to its environment and it’s going to focus really well right here,” Dr. Hall said, gesturing in front of her face. “And as a result, it’s going to not see very well at a distance.”

And nearsightedness can be more than just an inconvenience for patients.

“It puts a patient at an increased risk for glaucoma, retinal detachments, and maculopathy which are permanent degenerations in your vision,” said Dr. Hall. 

Dr. Hall knows screens aren’t going away but there are things parents can do to help children cut down on the risks. For starters, make sure your kids spend at least 90 minutes a day outside. She also recommends limiting recreational screen time,  such as games and videos, to less than two hours a day. Finally, try implementing something known as “The Elbow Rule” at your house. That’s where you make a fist and put it to your chin and never let a device come closer to your eyes than your elbow. 

“Just increasing that distance for children really does make a difference,” said Dr. Hall. “And then also, as a parent, modeling good behavior and making sure there’s screen-free time in your day and screen-free locations in your home such as the dinner table and bedrooms.”

Eyeglasses correct vision when they’re on, but for kids like Madelynn, there are new options on the market to slow the progression of nearsightedness such as special contact lenses and eye drops. 

Madelynn wears her contact lenses every day and is seeing a big difference.

“We’re just so pleasantly surprised that at her last exam, there was just a huge change, a huge slowdown from where she was,” said Ladema Gore. “We’re not seeing the huge jumps anymore.”

The majority of the progression happens between the ages of eight and 16, according to Dr. Hall. She recommends children get their first vision screening with an optometrist at age 6 months and another at age three.

Signs your child is having vision issues include squinting, rubbing one eye, complaining of blurry vision, excessive blinking and avoiding reading things at a distance.

Click here for more information regarding nearsightedness and to fill out a risk assessment.