Covid lockdowns and myopia in children

Children’s reliance on screens during lockdown makes the battle for digital-free time even tougher

Covid-19 certainly doesn’t seem to have helped the running argument in many NZ households: children demanding more screen time, parents wanting less. And it seems parents are right again: studies that have drawn a link between lockdowns and childhood myopia.

A study from the Chinese University of Hong Kong found the eyesight of some children who were already near-sighted worsened more quickly than expected during lockdowns, while other children developed myopia at a greater rate than optometrists had seen prior to 2020 and Covid-19 changing our worlds.

Devices and eye health

During lockdown, many parents find it challenging to keep children occupied, and because many caregivers are working from home, they very understandably succumb to allowing their children more screen time.

We know that hours spent staring at screens damages eyesight. The use of gadgets for communication, education and entertainment, especially when watched in the dark, has led to an epidemic of eye strain and myopia around the world.

Our eyes are not built to read on screens. Spending more time indoors and on screens because of Covid 19 has been linked to an increased rate of short-sightedness or myopia in children.

Constantly forcing our eyes to focus while looking straight out could be increasing strain, eventually leading to near sightedness. So, to save children’s vision, the study suggests we must make limiting screen time a priority.

Tips to protect children’s eyes during the lockdownlockdown eye health

Get outside for an hour per day at the very least.

A growing body of research supports the link between time spent outdoors and a lowered risk for myopia.

Basically, children’s eyes need fresh air as much as their bodies do. Being outside gives eyes a chance to focus on different distances and provides a rest from close-up work and TV screens. But it also exposes kids’ eyes to brighter, outdoor light.

Take a break.

As we all know, policing screen use can be a right pain; you end up sound like a stuck record and even bore yourself. So, use rules and games to help kids give their eyes a break. They are great tools to keep track of healthy eye intermissions.

    • Use alarms and timers to monitor screen time.
    • Get the kids get up and running a circuit of the house between virtual classes or alarms.
    • Ask children to look outside the window, find five objects and write them down.
    • Consider tracking these eye breaks with a chart or setting up a reward system.

Make children aware of how much they blink.

Blinking helps spread tears and mucus across your eyes. If you’re blinking less, the tears have more time to evaporate, which results in red and dry eyes. Only after looking away from something you’ve been staring at do eyes relax and the normal blink rate returns.

The simplest thing to do is to remind children to blink when watching the screen or reading. We recommend the 20/20/20 rule: look away from the screen every 20 minutes and focus on an object at least 20 feet (about 6m) away for at least 20 seconds. Children really should walk away from screens for at the very least 10 minutes every hour.

Dull it down.

The brightness of the monitor reflecting onto eyes can also contribute to dry eyes, so adjust screen brightness to match the level of light in the room and check for glare. Increasing the screen contrast can help reduce eye strain. Only watch screens in an appropriately illuminated space: not in a dark bedroom.

Use bigger screens and position them farther away.

A monitor placed at arm’s length from the head is better than a phone or tablet held close to the face. Place the screen at least 45 to 60 cms away from your child at eye level. Using digital devices while lying down or reclining can mean screens are too close to children’s eyes.

Sleep.

It’s vital for eyes to have enough recovery time at night. Lack of sleep can cause eye strain, burst blood vessels and dry eyes.

Covid lockdowns and myopia – what to look for

Symptoms of myopia include squinting, rubbing eyes frequently and complaining of blurry vision. It’s important to watch for the signs because kids often adapt to vision changes and may not complain.

Focussing on children’s eye health

Between our Henderson Optometry practice and our optometrists in Newmarket our staff has dedicated over 35 years’ to children’s eye care. If you’re at all worried about Covid lockdowns and myopia, call 09 522 1283 or 09 836 1731 to schedule a comprehensive eye test. We’re here to help New Zealand kids see a clearer future.