COVID-19 pandemic increases myopia prevalence in children

Pandemic myopia rates are about 3x higher than prior to the virus causing lockdown

A study conducted by researchers from the Hong Kong School of Ophthalmology linked the COVID-19 pandemic to an increase in myopia among young children.1 Approximately 2,000 children were assessed.

Results revealed that the prevalence of myopia among school-age children during the pandemic increased significantly compared to a study conducted before the outbreak. Prolonged exposure to screens and less time spent outdoors were linked to faster progress in myopia, according to researchers.

While myopia can seem like an innocuous condition that affects only vision, it can predispose people to other ocular challenges and risks of vision loss, said a coauthor of the study, Jason CS Yam, MBBS, MPH, FRCS, FCOphthal, FHKAM, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in a statement.2

“Our study showed that less time spent outdoors and more time spent on near work, including screen time, is associated with faster progression in short-sightedness, or myopia," Yam said.

Study outcomes

For the study, the researchers followed 709 children for an average of 7.79 months. They then compared the data to a group of over a 1,000 children before and after the pandemic.1

During the pandemic, the prevalence of myopia was almost 26 percent. It was more than 3 times higher than the pre-pandemic rate.

The researchers also learned about the changes in axial length over time. In children with myopia, the length of the eye increased with age.

“An increase in outdoor time has been consistently shown by multiple studies in different countries to have a protective role against the development of myopia and is a top priority among international recommendations for myopia control strategies,” Yam said.2

Recommendations

Tamiesha Frempong, MD of Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York, New York, recommends children spend at least 2 hours a day outdoors to help vision and obesity outcomes.2

“One problem with kids staying home is that many aren’t getting the eye tests they typically get in school,” said Dr. Megan Collins, an assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. “Certain symptoms can alert parents that eye problems are developing, such as squinting, rubbing eyes a lot and complaints of eyestrain.”

References

1. Zhang X, Cheung SSL, Chan HN, et al. Myopia incidence and lifestyle changes among school children during the COVID-19 pandemic: a population-based prospective study. Br J Ophthalmol. 2021 Aug 2:bjophthalmol-2021-319307. doi:10.1136/bjophthalmol-2021-319307.

2. Carroll L. Covid pandemic linked to increased nearsightedness in kids. NBC News. August 3, 2021. Accessed August 4, 2021. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/kids-health/covid-pandemic-linked-increased-nearsightedness-kids-n1275742