A new study stemming from China and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that home confinement during the pandemic has created a significant increase in myopia – also called nearsightedness – for children aged 6 to 8 years, with the prevalence of myopia increasing 1.4 to 3 times in 2020 compared with the previous five years.
Myopia is a condition which usually starts in school-aged children and is caused by accelerated eye growth. This not only impacts a child’s ability to see clearly and perform their best, but also increases the risk of a child having serious eye diseases when they get older, such as glaucoma, cataracts and retinal detachments.
The increase in myopia has also been prevalent in the Washington, D.C. area. The increased hours of virtual screen usage this past year has fueled the fire of the myopia epidemic, including:
• Younger kids are becoming more affected: The average age of kids in the Washington, D.C. area currently being treated for myopia in 2021 is 7 to 10-year-olds, as compared to 8 to 12-year-olds in previous years.
• Major increase in worsening eyesight: 40 to 50 percent of these younger children are being diagnosed with a higher prescription (higher myopia), indicative of the impact of increased virtual learning and more indoor time over the past year.
“The number of myopia cases in our young patients has been growing at an alarming rate, due to more screen time and less time playing outdoors,” said Dr. Kevin Chan, a Tysons area optometrist. “With the most recent pandemic, children are being forced indoors for more than just social time and have to finish school through virtual learning, putting their eye health at greater risk for myopia development. We cannot urge enough to parents the importance of their child’s eye exam this year and seeking treatment as needed.”
Currently, more than 250,000 children in the Washington, D.C., area suffer from myopia, and that number is expected to grow to over 320,000 by just 2030.
(D.C. area statistics courtesy of Treehouse Eyes)