The world is in the midst of the Coronavirus quarantine and that means we’re all spending a lot more time indoors than ever before. The risks of Myopia in children have consistently increased over the last 50 years, and are likely to increase even more rapidly now during quarantine. Myopia is an interesting eye disease because it has both genetic and environmental causes. It’s this environmental component that may become more dangerous during quarantine. As a result, unless parents are aware of the increasing risks of myopia during quarantine, the risks to all children are likely to increase, and the risks to children with genetic predisposition to Myopia may increase even more.
What is Myopia?
Myopia is an eye disease that results in poor vision at a distance, while near vision is clear. In more mild cases, Myopia is referred to as nearsightedness, but don’t let the common name lead you to believe that this isn’t a potentially dangerous disease. In fact, severe myopia can lead to eye disorders and diseases such as:
- Detached retinas
- Macular degeneration
…all of which can lead to blindness.
In some cases, Myopia can be caused by a mis-shaped lens such that light is focused in front of the retina. But most of the time, Myopia is caused by an elongation of the entire eye. The correctly-shaped lens tries to focus light where the back of the eye — called the retina — should be, but because of the longer shape of the eye, the retina is further back and the light focuses in front of the retina.
In most cases, Myopia begins when children are in elementary and middle school, and grows progressively worse over time.
Why Myopia Accelerates During Quarantine
So how does the eye become elongated? Studies have shown very definite answers to this question. In some children, genetics plays a part in that. But in most people, the eye elongates when the eyes are focused more often on items that are near, such as computer monitors, tablets or smartphones, which are exactly the things children are doing when “distance-learning” at home.
But learning at home has changed more than looking at screens during school. During quarantine, since there is no outdoor recess with dozens of kids from the classroom, kids now socialize on these same screens. And at the end of the day, they are often looking at screens again for entertainment, on anything from smartphones to Televisions.
Myopia during quarantine is likely to accelerate — to get worse faster — during quarantine simply because children are spending far more time focusing on items that are near, and are spending less time looking far away or playing outside.
The Myopia Epidemic
Studies in the US and Internationally over the last 10 to 40 years have shown that Myopia is increasing, and that this Myopia Epidemic is due to several factors, the strongest of which is that people are spending less time outdoors and more time indoors looking at screens, including computers, tablets, and especially phones.
Worldwide in 2010, approximately 25% of the population had Myopia and estimates are that now 33% worldwide have Myopia. Here in the USA, back in 1972 about 21% of the American population had Myopia. In 2010, approximately 42% of the USA population had some level of Myopia, and today in the USA, estimates are that maybe as much as 50% the population has Myopia.
It’s expected that Myopia during quarantine is going to become more common and more severe both worldwide and in the USA.
Watch For These Signs of Myopia In Children During Quarantine
Myopia has many signs, most of which on their own are not an indication of Myopia. But when several of these symptoms are present, it may indicate your child has Myopia. And since Myopia is a progressive eye disease with potentially dangerous results, you should have your child’s vision tested as soon as possible.
- Sitting close to the television
- Complaining of fatigue
- Difficulty doing schoolwork
- Behavior issues, especially with schoolwork
- Requiring new eyeglass prescriptions every year, if not more often
Other warning signs of Myopia include parents and siblings with Myopia.
There are several treatments for Myopia which can be customized based on the age of the patient, severity of the Myopia, budget and other factors. These treatments include:
- Prescription Glasses — for vision correction
- Atropine Eye Drops — help to reduce eye muscle fatigue, which helps to slow the elongation of the eye
- NaturalVue(r) Contact Lenses — Special contact lenses worn all day for vision correction and Myopia Control
- Orthokeratology — These are contact lenses worn only at night to reshape the corneas.
What Happens If Myopia Is Not Treated
Since Myopia is a progressive disease, children with Myopia require new prescriptions very frequently. Many parents ask us if we can just prescribe stronger glasses each time. This is not advised as an effective method of Myopia Control because it allows the eyes to continue to elongate and for the Myopia to get worse. Stronger prescriptions do not control Myopia, but allow it to continue. And if it continues, the likelihood of more severe eye problems mentioned before — detached retinas, cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma — increases dramatically, becoming between 3 times to 40 times more likely. The likelihood of blindness also increases.
What Parents Can Do Now To Help Their Children
Not enough has been publicized to Parents about Myopia in Children, but because we view Myopia as such a danger to children, we are continuing to develop a large library of Myopia articles and Myopia Blog Posts on our website. We recommend that all parents read these articles to help them truly understand the dangers of Myopia.
The following tips can also help to slow the progression of Myopia.
- Be sure that your child takes plenty of screen breaks during the school day.
- Take a quick trip outside during the day — even just 5 minutes each hour — to look at distant objects such as hills, trees, birds, signs, down the street, etc.
- Limit non-school screen time.
- Encourage social connection by telephone rather than video.
- Spend at least an hour a day playing outdoors.
What Teachers Can Do Now To Help Their Students
We have been working to inform parents and teachers about the dangers of Myopia during quarantine and at other times. Please help by doing the following:
- Encourage your students to go outside between lessons, even if only for a few minutes. And if necessary, extend the breaks between lessons to allow for this.
- Let the class parents know about the dangers of Myopia and what they can do to help.
- Share the recommendations for Parents, listed above.
- Refer parents to this page for more information.
Do You Suspect Your Child Has Myopia?
We will soon be able to see patients in our office again on a limited basis. Until then, we are seeing patients via telemedicine — ironically via Zoom video conferencing on your smartphone or computer. If you think your child may have Myopia, please call our office at 818-891-6711 or contact our office online to set up an appointment in the office when we’re open, or to simply discuss your child’s case. And if it’s clear your child has Myopia during quarantine and the condition is an emergency, we can arrange to see your child even during quarantine.