Lockdown habits raise concerns for children’s vision

Bearsden Optometrist Peter Ivins today raised concerns over the effects of lockdown on children’s vision.

“We’ve already seen reports of up to 30 % of adults suffering visual fatigue during lockdown, and our experience in the clinic suggests that this is even worse in children. Fewer hours outdoors and increased use of digital devices means children’s vision is under greater stress than ever before.

“There are both long and short term concerns. Short term the issue is one of visual fatigue, the symptoms of which include vision changes, dry eyes, blurred vision, dizziness and headaches. Our eyes were primarily designed for distance use with occasional near tasks, so constant near (and often very near) use means it’s perhaps not surprising we are seeing these symptoms.

“Many children often have small prescriptions, a slight difference between their eyes or a mild coordination issue that normally causes them no problems, but in today’s circumstances these symptoms are exacerbated.”

So what as a parent should you do?

“Well, first listen if your child complains about their eyes and watch out for these symptoms. Make sure the screens are at a reasonable distance and height to help with posture and encourage your child to follow the 20/20/20 rule which means every 20 minutes take a 20 second break and look at something 20 meters away

I would also encourage them to blink 20 times during each break. Screen use lowers your blink rate and causes symptoms of dryness.

If that doesn’t help then consult your local optometrist for an eye examination which is still allowed in these circumstances and is free under the NHS. This will provide your child with a full visual health check and you will be advised as to whether your child requires some help with glasses.            

Longer term, and of possibly of more concern, is the effect that lockdown is having on the incidence of myopia or short-sightedness in children, which itself is a growing global epidemic. Reports of increased myopia in children first emerged in the 1980’s. In the past 20 years the prevalence among young adults is now above 80% in many Asian regions and 50% in the U.S. and parts of Europe.

Myopia is associated with increased risks to eye health in adulthood. These risks include:

  • Myopic macular degeneration (MMD)
  • Staphyloma
  • Retinal detachment
  • Primary open-angle glaucoma
  • Cataracts

Of these diseases, MMD and retinal detachment are the most devastating. They have the strongest relationship to myopia, with each dioptre (unit) increase in myopia resulting in a 67% increased risk of myopic macular degeneration in adult life. Controlling the rate of progression of myopia in children is now a major global health issue. We know that increased time outdoors can delay myopia’s onset and may slow its progression, so the concern is that habits developed during lockdown are very likely to exacerbate the problem.

For children who do develop myopia, eye care professionals now have the opportunity to slow its progression rather than just correct the visual symptoms. It is important that children are reviewed by their optometrist regularly, yet lockdown is causing delays in return appointments which means we are seeing myopic rates increasing, a worrying finding that has been seen in recent studies all over the world.

Several myopia control therapies have been shown to be very effective, from contact lens systems to specially designed spectacle lenses and some drugs. Myopia management clinics will advise parents on the best option for their child.

Our advice is to have all children seen by an optometrist by the age of five, particularly if one or both parents are myopic. Try to get kids outside for 2-3 hours a day, keep screen time to a minimum, and if your child is short sighted get them seen regularly. Keep their glasses up to date and ask your optometrist about myopia control options.

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