(FOX 9) - New research is showing just how damaging the pandemic has been for children's eyes.
Now that school has started, eye doctors are concerned that an unprecedented number of kids won't be able to see well and won't know what to do about it.
"We know that the pandemic really affected a lot of younger people more than we had thought initially," said Dr. Michael Wallerich.
Dr. Wallerich has seen a dramatic increase in vision problems in kids, especially nearsightedness, meaning they can't see far away. With some prescriptions changing between two and sixteen steps in less than two years. He points to the obvious problem: a lot more screen time during the pandemic.
"They would hold the devices even closer which triggers the growth of nearsightedness even more," said Dr. Wallerich.
The less obvious problem: Not enough sunlight. He says kids eyes need two hours a day. "So we tend to think of our young people needing glasses in second, third, or fourth grade. But we're finding the prevalence of nearsightedness has increased by threefold."
The data backs it up. One study of 120,000 children shows nearsightedness spiked post-pandemic, especially in kids ages 6 to 8. Also noteworthy, children diagnosed with ADHD are far more likely to have vision problems.
Dr. Wallerich recommends adding a complete eye exam as part of your child's treatment plan.
"Those vision problems may be the need for glasses, or it may be what we call binocular vision disorder," he explained. "Your eyes aren't working well together. Oftentimes in vision screening or rudimentary testing those are not found."
Whether your child can verbalize their vision' or not, Dr. Wallerich says kids as young as two, or no later than preschool, can benefit from an eye exam because it sets the stage for everything else.
That was the case for 8-year-old Eleanor, who came in for a visit. For her, it turns out she doesn’t need glasses right now. Instead, she was holding material too close and overfocusing.
"Vision allows us to learn," said Dr. Wallerich. "If you're unable to see well we might fall behind in school we may not be successful readers we may have more issues and challenges than we thought or realized so it's always a great idea to screen for those issues with an eye examination."
The state Medicaid program is a pretty extensive engine for many patient populations. This population may also include undocumented, pregnant mothers, lower income or under the state threshold.