COVID-19 and it’s Impact on Myopia

What can a parent do to protect their kids from short-sightedness (myopia)?

Myopia is an ongoing issue in our society, however, there are further concerns with regard to the impact COVID-19 may have had. As many of you already know, I have been working to reduce the incidence of short-sightedness (myopia) since opening my practice (previously “IContact”, now “maximeyes”) in Manly, NSW.

We offer special visual training, multifocal glasses, and advice to parents to minimise their kid’s exposure to near activities. These days, much of this type of activity includes computers and “screen-time”. We recognise how important it is to give kids’ eyes a break from these activities and to use their distance vision.

At the same time, I started correcting short-sightedness in kids using an overnight technique called orthokeratology (Ortho K). We noticed these children stopped getting more short-sighted over the months and years. Some are still doing great at 30!

The impact of COVID-19 on myopia

I joined the Orthokeratology Society of Oceania (OSO) which teamed up with the International Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control (IAOMC) a few years later. The OSO, in cooperation with the IAOMC, has put together information on how to protect your child’s sight over this COVID-19 period. Here it is with a few additions.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools, malls, parks, and other outdoor activities to close. This has forced children to “shelter in their homes”. And what do most children do when at home? They play video games and work at their computers for hours and hours. Lack of outdoor time and extensive near work are both serious risk factors for increasing myopia (shortsightedness) in children. This condition increases the risk of permanent sight-threatening disease later in life.

Will we see a large increase in children developing short-sightedness in the next year? Will myopic children find that their prescription increases in strength at a faster rate in the coming year due to the COVID-19 lifestyle restrictions? It is very possible.

Step that parents can take

So what can a parent do to lessen these serious challenges posed by the government’s “shelter in home” instructions?

  1. Ensure that your child goes outdoors for 1 hour every day. Like a walk with the dog or at least out on a balcony or the back door step or yard.
  2. Invent interesting outdoor activities and participate with your children, see the articles below for ideas.
  3. Get them to read or work on their devices outdoors. High light levels are thought to be a key protective factor of outdoor time in regards to myopia. Even under shade, umbrella, or with a hat and sunglasses, the light levels typically reaching a child’s eye will exceed that of indoors. If they can’t get outdoors for this, due to weather or apartment living, do this near natural lighting, for example, by a large window.
  4. Ensure that they take a 10-minute break for every 30 minutes of screen time and try and limit it to only 1-2 hours per day during these periods when they are at home. Praise and treat your kids when you catch them doing the right thing and keeping their devices at least 40cm from their eyes.
  5. It’s a good time to teach kids how to wash their hands properly and please include a clean nail brush for under their fingernails.

The web has lots of ideas to help you protect your child’s future sight. Whilst some of these resources were developed due to the pandemic, the suggestions they make are relevant for any time.

It is important to manage your child’s eyesight and learn more about how you can limit myopia progression as they get older. If you are concerned about your yours or your child’s eyesight, please book an appointment at our eye clinic in Manly, or feel free to call on (02) 9977 2554 or 0414 568 142.

Good luck and stay safe (and sane).

Max Humphreys with thanks to our colleague in the US, Dr Caroline Guerrero Cauchi, and Alex Petty, our VP, for content.

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