AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Optometrist Dr. Denise Smith said the stream of young children coming into her office with worried parents is an alarming sign of the times. Her patients have only gotten younger and more frequent with the onset of the pandemic.

The complaint is nearsightedness or myopia, a condition where objects further away appear blurry.

“Now with increased digital devices and the lack of time outdoors, we’re seeing it happen a lot more frequently,” Smith said.

Doctors believe the culprit is all that extra screen time.

A study published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the same pattern. While tracking children’s vision from 2015 to 2020, the study found “the prevalence of myopia increased 1.4 to 3 times in 2020 compared with the previous 5 years.”

Smith said in the past this was an issue that often didn’t occur until college when students spent hours reading and holed up in their dorms.

Now though, she’s seeing kids as young as 3 years old coming in after showing some of the warning signs.

“The child is squinting, if they can’t see the board at school, they might be complaining of headaches or holding books closer to their face, holding their phone closer or maybe getting closer to the television,” she said.

With the way things are trending, the World Health Organization estimates half of the population of the world may be myopic by 2050.

Smith said the condition is treatable, and a lifetime of wearing glasses is not the answer.

“Glasses or contact lenses are going to help them see clearly, but it’s not going to do anything to stop the progression or prevent the eyeball from getting longer,” she said. “You want to be able to have those specialized treatments to actually stop that process, which in turn can prevent sight-threatening disorders later on.”