Children: more myopia during lockdowns
Myopia, has gone up dramatically during periods of lockdown – that’s according to a study of more than 100,000 children in China. Though the damage is irreversible, there are things that all of us (including parents) can do to slow its progress. Due to the lockdown & home-schooling during pandemic, we are staring at various displays even more often – including children.
Myopia is a medical term used to describe short-sightedness, also referred to as near-sightedness. People with Myopia find that objects or people at a distance look a bit blurry, but as soon as they get closer, they appear clearer. This is because when the light enters a myopic eye, it bends in a way that causes objects at a distance to blur. Although it’s easily corrected by glasses, it can lead to more serious eye issues, including a loss of vision.
Up to three times more myopic children
Myopia was diagnosed around three times more often than in previous years, especially in children aged six to eight. On average, children within this age group lost around 0.3 dioptres of vision. There is a lot that can be done about this: “The problem is that the distance is too short. When children hold their smartphones very close to their eyes,” explains Dr. Ludger Wollring, press officer of the professional association of ophthalmologists in Germany in an interview with NetDoktor.
When the eyeball grows too much
When reading or playing games on the smartphone, the eyes are constantly focused on things at close range. Over time, the eyeball begins to grow. As a result, the focal point of the incident light, and with it the sharp image, is no longer on the retina, but in front of it – the image becomes blurred. Even 1 mm increase in length means a difference of minus three dioptres.
Pre-school and elementary school students should therefore use a smartphone or tablet for a maximum of half an hour a day, for older children there is an upper limit of three hours. “The younger the children are, the more important it is,” says Wollring.
This does not apply to a properly set up computer workstation. If the distance to the screen is an arm’s length of 60 to 65 cm, as stated in the occupational safety guidelines, VDU work does not promote myopia.
Daylight slows down myopia
Another effective way to counteract myopia in childhood and adolescence is simply to send the children out. Two hours a day outdoors is ideal for children in development, because the light intensity and colour spectrum of daylight outdoors have been proven to slow down the growth in length of the eyeball. “The natural light in sufficient doses prevents the increase in myopia to an inconsiderable degree,” says Wollring. In South Korea, those responsible have therefore moved the physical education classes outside and doubled the sports times.
Difficult conditions in lockdown
It is obvious that such advice is not so easy to implement right now. Not every child has a full-fledged computer for home-schooling. Then fixed agreements help for times when the display is not viewed. Parents can set a good example and also set smartphone-free time blocks for themselves to which they adhere.
The opportunities for playing outdoors are still limited, especially for younger children, and school sports are cancelled anyway. But a little more than nothing is always possible: “You can go outside even in snowy weather,” says Wollring. And you can also meet and play outside with just one friend.
Parents can also playfully practice eye sports with their children – “I see something that you don’t see,” for example, with objects that are deliberately further away. Or just go bird watching during the weekend.
Look out the window more often – Another help for the eyes is to consciously switch to distance vision from time to time on the computer. The thumb rule here is 20x20x20. That means: every 20 minutes for 20 seconds fix a point that is at least 20 meters away. This does not counteract myopia, but prevents dry eyes and tension. After 50 minutes of screen work at the latest, a break is due – ideally with a long look out of the window. Foresight is required, especially in times of pandemics.
Myopia is a major health issue around the world. The World Health Organisation estimates that half of the population of the world may be myopic by 2050. In recent years, insufficient time spent in outdoor activities has been recognised as a major risk factor for myopia development. The duration and intensity of near work activities are also associated with myopia.
In 2050, the prevalence of myopia will be much higher in countries like United States, Canada, Germany, Japan, Singapore, India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain & United Arab Emirates (UAE). The prevalence of high myopia is predicted to increase to 24% in all the Global Burden of Disease regions and in high-income Asia-Pacific countries by 2050.
Myopia usually shows between the ages of 6 and 12. Complaints of headaches, inability to focus and difficulty seeing things on the whiteboard in the classroom are all signs of short-sightedness in children. If manifested in infancy, parents should look for signs such as squinting and rubbing of the eyes.
Parents should have their child’s eyes checked at regular intervals to test for myopia. Early treatment of myopia in children may lead to a control of the condition early on in life, so the eyesight doesn’t worsen. Therefore, you should conduct checks on your child’s eyes regularly:
- The first check-up should be done during the first year of their life.
- The next should be at three and a half.
- The third at five years old
- After the age of five, regular health check-ups and annual screenings should be sufficient to catch it early.
Myopia in children can escalate quickly as their bodies and eyes grow. The growth of the eye might stretch the cornea and retina faster. However, children with myopia usually achieve steady vision in their teens. In adults, the deterioration of vision might also have hidden causes such as diabetes or cataracts.