Britain’s couch potato kids are creating a future blindness crisis which threatens to engulf the NHS as they get older, a leading eye surgeon has warned.

Excessive screen time means Gen Z has missed out on vital natural light during formative years, with a potentially catastrophic long-term impact on their vision.

The world is already experiencing soaring rates of short sightedness, with an increase of 46 per cent in the UK over the last three decades.

But figures have reached epidemic levels, with world-renowned eye surgeon Dr Joern Jorgensen warning it will only get worse.

Dr Jorgensen, of LEC London, says that kids staying indoors on their devices in a crucial window during puberty means they aren’t getting sufficient dopamine, which in turn is damaging their eyes.

The world is already experiencing soaring rates of short sightedness, with an increase of 46 per cent in the UK over the last three decades. But figures have reached epidemic levels, with world-renowned eye surgeon Dr Joern Jorgensen warning it will only get worse

The world is already experiencing soaring rates of short sightedness, with an increase of 46 per cent in the UK over the last three decades. But figures have reached epidemic levels, with world-renowned eye surgeon Dr Joern Jorgensen warning it will only get worse

Spending long periods of time staring at phones and tablets a few inches away from the face can develop myopia, or short sightedness

Spending long periods of time staring at phones and tablets a few inches away from the face can develop myopia, or short sightedness

The second factor is the amount of time spent staring at phones and tablets a few inches away from the face which can develop myopia, or short sightedness.

In China, where he has eight clinics, Dr Jorgensen has seen levels of short sightedness leap from 30 per cent to 95 per cent and above in some areas of the country.

And he warns that the same will happen in Britain without a major shift in the way children spend their leisure time.

Dr Jorgensen, who practices at the London surgery as well as being CEO of 44 eye surgery clinics around the globe, told MailOnline: ‘Children are not going outside as much as previous generations have, everything they need is in front of them on their devices.

‘That means that during a critical time of their lives they are not getting natural sunlight and that in turn is causing a very noticeable rise in myopia, it is alarming and what we are seeing is an epidemic.

‘Going outside in the daylight to play football, sports of any kind or just to play with friends causes a chemical process which releases dopamine.

‘We know that it is an inhibitor to the type of growth in the eye which causes short sightedness. The horizontal part of the eye lengthens and continues to grow, making it difficult to focus.

‘We can encourage children to go outside and do more sports, but you can’t reverse what has already happened with social media playing such an important part in their lives.

‘The second damaging factor is the amount of near work younger people are doing which is also damaging.’

Having a screen a few inches from the face means that the eyes blink less and over compensate when focusing for hours on end on tasks that are up close.

Dr Irfan Jeeva, from Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said more youngsters were needing glasses because of exposure to digital devices

Dr Irfan Jeeva, from Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said more youngsters were needing glasses because of exposure to digital devices

What is myopia? 

Myopia, also known as short-sightedness, is a common eye condition where you cannot see objects far away clearly.

It can usually be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. 

It can happen in adults but it usually starts in children age six to 13. 

Myopia can run in families and can get worse until the eye stops growing at around 20 years of age.  

Signs you or your child may be short-sighted include: 

  • Difficulty reading words from a distance, such as reading the whiteboard at school 
  • Sitting close to the TV or computer, or holding a mobile phone or tablet close to the face 
  • Getting headaches 
  • Rubbing the eyes a lot

Source: NHS 

It means muscles in the eye stretch and the lens shifts, leading to a gradual lengthening of the eyeball and damages the way we focus on objects in the distance.

Dr Jorgensen warns myopia doesn’t just mean having to order spectacles – serious cases can lead to blindness.

Bad cases of myopia in young people increase the chance of them developing macular degeneration by 41 per cent, studies suggest. 

Macular degeneration, of which one type is age-related, is a leading cause of blindness.  

Dr Jorgensen said: ‘Treating AMD is one of the biggest costs facing the NHS, it is a great drain on resources.

‘A single injection of Lucentis, which is used to treat AMD, is £1,000 and a patient needs to have it every month or risk blindness.

‘Serious short sightedness also dramatically increases the chances of developing other serious conditions such as glaucoma and retinal detachment.

‘It’s a very serious situation, we are seeing cases of high myopia 30 times more often and that triggers the four drivers of eye disease, cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment and AMD.’

Through his work in China he has found that in rural areas such as Tibet, where children are more likely to be outside working on farms, the level of myopia falls away dramatically.

His warning has been echoed by other eye specialists.

Dr Irfan Jeeva, from Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, said more youngsters were needing glasses because of exposure to digital devices.

Dr Jeeva said phones, tablets and televisions were too often used as a ‘babysitter’, but warned parents to limit screen time for their children.

He told BBC Look North: ‘We’re still learning about it, but there’s enough data for me to believe that increased screen exposure can affect your visual health, mental health, physical health and emotional health.

‘Screens are quite addictive. They have an internal reward mechanism that makes you want to spend more time with them.’

Short sightedness has already become a major concern for the NHS, a fear compounded by a new study.

The UCL researchers suggested more time spent reading books at school could be to blame for the upward trend, with intensive studying and more Britons attending university

Scientists at University College London (UCL) saw the biggest spike in cases was among adults and the highest academic achievers.

The UCL researchers suggested more time spent reading books at school could be to blame for the upward trend, with intensive studying and more Britons attending university.

Around a third of Britons have myopia, which is becoming more common among children.

Research commissioned by the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition found that more than half (52 per cent) of children today play outside less than their parents did when they were young.

Close to one in three parents (31 per cent) believe that their children are addicted to screens, while 54 per cent said that they would like their children spending less time watching television, playing video games or interacting with a tablet.

More than four in 10 (45 per cent) of parents were unaware that high levels of screen time can have a negative impact on eye health, while 51 per cent did not know that spending time outdoors can delay short-sightedness.

Last year Myopia Focus launched a petition calling for more NHS funding to treat the epidemic level of childhood short sightedness, which it called ‘a growing public health issue’.

Optometrist Jason Higginbotham, who started the campaign, said: ‘Due to changes in lifestyle, an increasing number of people are at a higher risk of developing sight-threatening conditions linked to myopia. This should no longer be considered a potential threat; it is very real.

‘We want to put pressure on ministers to do something about it now. The younger therapy commences, the less likely that your child will be at risk of sight loss in the future. We need the government to act.’

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