Another Epidemic within the Pandemic

Nov 9, 2020, 09:19 AM by Dr. Sally Robinson


It has been previously reported that there is an increasing problem in children developing myopia (nearsightedness or the ability to see up close but not far away).   Dr. Ella Faktorovich of the Pacific Vision Institute in California reports that one in four parents have a child with myopia, and about ¾ of the children with myopia were diagnosed between the ages of 3 and 12 years.  Having myopia is not just needing to wear glasses but studies suggest that severe myopia puts children at risk for retinal detachment, glaucoma and macular degeneration.  A study in the journal Ophthalmology, May, 2016, predicted that by 2050 half the world’s population will be myopic.

Research has shown that working up close such as reading or using a tablet increased the odds of developing myopia.  Due to the pandemic there has been a massive spike in children’s screen time.   Dr. Faktorovich reports that she found that 48% of children are spending more than 6 hours per day online.  This is nearly 500% increase from time spent before the pandemic.  This is school time, not games or entertainment.  Excessive screen time can be harmful to children’s developing vision particularly if nearsightedness runs in the family.

Some of the warning signs of excessive screen time are eye irritation, watery eyes, headaches, intermittent blurry vision, and increased sensitivity to light.  Once aware of eye fatigue, parents can reduce the risk of vision damage associated with excessive screen exposure by doing the following:  Set limits on screen time whenever possible.  Screens should be at least 8 inches from the child’s eyes.  If possible place the desk or work area near a window and encourage the child to look out of the window at least every hour.  If the child is wearing glasses they should be fully corrected and worn all the time.  Most important the child’s schedule should have a minimum of 8 hours of outdoor activity, and preferably, 15 hours of outdoor activity per week.  Not only does the schedule time out of doors help reduce eye fatigue, it is also found to increase school performance and reduce mental stress.  This is not limited to children.

Parents should be encouraged to work with schools and policymakers to consider children’s vision needs.  Schools, teachers and parents must work together to incorporate eye health strategies to help protect children as they learn online.  By making these health strategies routine it will also help with cognitive improvements and reduce mental health issues.  These healthy habits will last a lot longer than the pandemic.

If a parent has any concerns about their child’s vision they should discuss this with their health care provider.  These concerns may be squinting to see things far away or sitting up close to see the TV.  No concern is too small and referral to an eye specialist may be required.

Dr. Sally Robinson
Clinical Professor, Dept. of Pediatrics

Keeping Kids Healthy
Published 11/06/2020

Also see:
UTMB Health Children's Complex Care
UTMB Health Pediatric Ophthalmology
UTMB Health Primary Care Pediatrics

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