Did My Eyesight Worsen During the Pandemic?

By Dr. Cheryl G. Murphy, OD

Increased screen time and less time spent outdoors can have negative impacts on our eyesight and health. While it may be nearly impossible to banish all screens from our lives, minimizing the effects of screen time whenever possible has its advantages. It can help slow nearsightedness progression, improve dry eye and sleep and provide other benefits to your eye and overall health.

According to a recent article published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, the pandemic has caused us to increase our use of digital devices and it has also caused an increase in myopia or nearsightedness in kids. Increased digital screen time, near work, and limited outdoor activities were found to be associated with the onset and progression of myopia, and could potentially be aggravated during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak period. While school closures may be short-lived, increased access to, adoption of, and dependence on digital devices could have a long-term negative impact on childhood development. Raising awareness among parents, children, and government agencies is key to mitigating myopigenic behaviors that may become entrenched during this period.”

Similarly, an epidemiological survey published in April 2021 by Wang et al in China demonstrated an association between increased nearsightedness, increased screen time and decreased time outdoors in kids and adolescents comparing data from 2019 to that of 2020. “In this survey on the progression of myopia in children and adolescents in Chongqing in 2019 and 2020, we demonstrated that the myopic rate increased in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic compared with that in 2019 before the pandemic. Hereditary factors, regional differences, digital screen exposure time, and the types of digital devices used for online classes, as well as the time spent for outdoor activities, were associated with myopic progression during the COVID-19 outbreak. Our findings suggest that the pandemic has accelerated the progress of myopia in children and adolescents.” They go on to say that, “the percentage of myopia among children and adolescents in 2020 was increased by 10.40% as compared to that in 2019 in Chongqing” and that kids aren’t the only ones that could use a break from screens.

Adults too, especially those working from home, are staring at a screen for more hours a day than if they had gone to work in person because they are concerned about their perceived productivity with a New York Post article stating that 6 out of 10 adults feel guilty taking breaks when working from home. They are also using what would have been commute time to “accomplish more” and instead of watching the road or snoozing on the train they are now glued to their screens for additional blocks of time each day.

Since many states are now easing their mask requirements and the number of cases of COVID-19 are down in all states, it will be easier for us to socialize, get outdoors more places without restrictions and return to work in person. All of these things may help kids and adults decrease the amount of time they spend socializing, studying or working on digital devices each day. However, it is important for eye care professionals to help patients recover from the impacts that pandemic habits may have had.

Ask your eye care professional how they can help your eyes and eyesight recover. Lenses prescribed by an eye care professional can help control myopia progression in kids and teens and their implementation and use will be more important now than ever before. Prescription and non-prescription blue light protective lenses distributed by your eye care or eye wear professional can also help combat the bad effects that blue light overexposure can have on your eyes when using screens of all types. Together, we can manage the aftereffects and break some of the bad habits the pandemic may have caused.

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