Increased Screen Time During COVID-19 May Accelerate Myopia Boom

Ashley Y. Gao; Sophie J. Bakri, MD


March 25, 2021

School closures were one of the first measures governments put in place at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transition to online learning and calls for households to lockdown inevitably upended how children learn and play, bringing about a rise in digital screen time and near work, as well as a decline in time spent outdoors. Now, a recent perspective in the American Journal of Ophthalmology has asked whether this shift will accelerate what was already a boom in cases of myopia worldwide.

The authors pointed to several research papers suggesting that these pandemic-associated trends could be linked to myopia onset and/or progression. For example, a 2020 cohort study detected an association, albeit a very weak one, between increased computer use and myopia in 9-year-old children.

Yet there is still much to be discovered about the link between myopia and digital screen time. Studies in this area are difficult to conduct because digital screen time is often estimated using self-reported measurements, complicating researchers' ability to provide precise data to determine the association with myopia development. Similarly, the influence of near work and outdoor time on myopia is also not yet fully understood.

That being said, this perspective provides compelling evidence of a potential correlation between environmental factors and nearsightedness. Future research should continue exploring this topic, using objective measurements of variables to avoid recall bias. It is imperative that we gain a better understanding of this possible association now to limit any long-term ramifications, because individuals with myopia are at a higher risk of developing other eye diseases, such as glaucoma, retinal detachment, and cataract.

If these authors' conclusions are correct, it raises the question of how to prevent a post-pandemic myopia surge. Their suggestions to promote socially distanced outdoor activities and limited screen time in children are advisable. Parents can do this in many ways: for example, by setting clear limits on TV time and accompanying their children to the park or on bike rides.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made our society even more reliant on technology. What impact that shift will have on ocular health, however, will require more research to determine.

Ashley Y. Gao is an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, majoring in human physiology.

Sophie J. Bakri, MD, a long-time contributor to Medscape, specializes in diseases and surgery of the retina and vitreous, including age-related macular degeneration. She also undertakes both clinical and translational research in the pathogenesis and treatment of retinal diseases.

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