Has the Covid pandemic caused an increase in myopia in children?

Has the Covid pandemic caused an increase in myopia in children?

Has the Covid pandemic caused an increase in myopia in children?

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The increase in screen time during the pandemic has worried parents about their children’s eyesight, but experts said more attention is needed on other types of prevention.

Optometry Australia’s 2022 Vision Index survey, released last month, found that 64% of parents were concerned about the potential sight impairment of their children who spent more time looking at screens.

But less than half of the respondents were aware that being outdoors plays a key role in protecting against myopia, also known as myopia.

Myopia is on the rise in children. The World Health Organization has estimated that half of the world’s population could be short-sighted by 2050.

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What are the risk factors for myopia?

Myopia results from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. ‘It was once thought, even just 20 years ago, as being extremely genetic,’ said Professor Ian Morgan of the Australian National University. “It is now quite clear that there are major environmental effects going on.” He said the increases in myopia rates in East Asia over the past half century were too rapid to be explained by genetics.

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Morgan’s research found that children who spend more time outdoors are less likely to become nearsighted even if their parents are nearsighted and regardless of how much time they spend “close to work” – activities performed at short focal lengths, such as reading and writing.

The positive effect of outdoor weather can be related to specific properties of the radiant intensity of sunlight. It is also believed that exposure to daylight stimulates the receptors in the eye to produce dopamine which protects against the development of myopia.

Children who spend more time close to work, focusing on books or screens, are at greater risk of becoming nearsighted. Other risk factors include increased educational attainment and the presence of two myopic parents.

“The prevalence of myopia was high in Taiwan and Singapore in the 1970s, when computer use was very limited and smartphones were non-existent,” Morgan said. “You don’t need these devices to create an epidemic. Since smartphones only took off 10 to 15 years ago, we need more evidence that they are having an effect. “

How has the pandemic affected children’s vision?

Research abroad has linked a decrease in outdoor time during the Covid-19 pandemic to an increase in myopia in children.

A study of more than 120,000 school-age children in Feicheng, China, found that the prevalence of myopia was 1.4 to three times higher in 2020, after months of home confinement, compared to the previous five years.

Another study followed Hong Kong children between January and August 2020. It estimated that the incidence of myopia in one year was between 26% and 28% for children between the ages of six and eight. , compared to a pre-Covid group, which had an annual rate of 15% to 17%.

The researchers found that the changes coincided with a reduction in outdoor time from about one hour and 16 minutes a day to 24 minutes a day and an increase in screen time from two and a half hours to seven hours a day. .

A 2021 study of Turkish children who had already been diagnosed with myopia found that their myopia worsened more in 2020 than in the previous two years. He also found that myopia progressed more slowly in children who participated in outdoor activities for two hours a day or lived in single-family homes.

Can you prevent myopia?

Dr. Angelica Ly, an optometrist and researcher at the University of New South Wales, said an important preventative measure in children is spending time outdoors. “The general guideline is that children should spend one and a half to two and a half hours a day outdoors,” Ly said. “It doesn’t have to be … in one go, but it might take some time to get to and from school, during recess, during lunch, and so on.”

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Optometry Australia said it is “critical that all problems are identified early” as myopia typically develops in childhood and treatment in the early stages can slow the progression of the condition.

For children already diagnosed as myopic, treatment options to slow the progression of myopia include specific eye drops, contact lenses, and myopia-control glasses, Ly said.

How does screen time affect adults?

Optometry Australia found that 42% of Australians surveyed reported an increase in the time they spent watching screens compared to the previous 12 months.

“There is some evidence that occupations that require really intense amounts of close work can tend to be more short-sighted,” Morgan said. “Overall, the effects on adults appear to be quite minimal.

“The growth rate of the eye is very close to zero after the age of 25 or so.”

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