Kids’ eyesight is getting worse. Doctors think the pandemic is to blame

Nearsightedness in young people is rising around the world.

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Doctors say they're seeing more children with new or worsening vision problems.

Recent research suggests that more kids than ever are being diagnosed with nearsightedness, or myopia.

What's to blame for the increase in vision problems? Experts believe the coronavirus pandemic has impacted how young kids live their lives—and it's changing their eyesight.


What is myopia?

According to the Mayo Clinic, myopia is a common vision problem where people can see close-up objects clearly, but their distance vision is blurry. It happens when the shape of your eye causes light rays to bend incorrectly, focusing images in front of your retina instead of on your retina.

Why do doctors believe that myopia is linked to the pandemic?

Experts know that myopia is determined by genetics and environment. If your parents are both nearsighted, then you are more likely to develop myopia, too.

Scientists believe a recent shift in children's behavior and environment is responsible for more diagnoses of myopia in young children.

At the onset of the pandemic, children shifted to virtual schooling and many experienced an increase in overall screen time. Additionally, many children spent less time outdoors in the past year.

Researchers from Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Tianjin Medical University Eye Hospital in Tianjin, China recently published a paper entitled, "2020 as the Year of Quarantine Myopia," in the January 14 issue of JAMA Ophthalmology.

The report details an increase in myopia diagnoses among 123,535 elementary school children following school closures last year.

Researchers compared the results of previous annual vision screenings and found that children, especially among those ages six to eight, were increasingly having trouble with their distance vision. Older children didn't experience as dramatic a change in their vision, despite also seeing an increase in screen time.

In the paper, experts argue that children aged six to eight may be more sensitive to environmental changes than older children, "given that they are in an important period of the development of myopia."

They believe the lack of exposure to outdoor light—the lack of outdoor play—negatively impacted the visual health of the children surveyed.

What can you do?

We're all doing our best to navigate how to educate and keep our kids safe during a pandemic.

To help your children's eyesight develop properly, experts from Johns Hopkins recommend protective eyewear with shatterproof plastic for outdoor play, and a balanced diet with nutrients like zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins A, C and E. Don't forget to schedule regular eye exams for your child, too.

Jamie Orsini is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, military spouse, and a mom to two busy toddlers. In her spare time, Jamie volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador program with NASA/JPL and reads anything she can get her hands on. She’s currently working on her first novel.

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