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May 21, 2020

Increasing screen time during COVID-19 could be harmful to kids’ eyesight

by: Shu-Fang Shih, University of Michigan

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

Shu-Fang Shih, University of Michigan and Olivia Killeen, University of Michigan

(THE CONVERSATION) The coronavirus pandemic is remaking the way children learn, and it could have an impact on their eyes.

With schools shifting to online lessons at home, children are spending more time in front of computer screens, and many parents are relaxing screen-time rules for TV and video games to keep kids occupied while social distancing. In the midst of the crisis, many children are spending less time playing outdoors.

This combination – more screen time and less outdoor time – may actually harm children’s vision and put them at higher risk of developing myopia, or nearsightedness. That can lead to serious eye problems in the future, including some potentially blinding diseases.

As a health behavioral and policy professor and an ophthalmology resident interested in health promotion and eye care for children, we’re concerned about the impacts of decreased outdoor time and excess screen time on children’s eyes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What causes myopia?

Scientists are still trying to understand how myopia, or nearsightedness, develops and progresses.

It occurs when the eyeball is too long or the eye’s focusing power is too strong, causing light rays to focus in front of the retina instead of on it, which creates a blurry image. While glasses or contact lenses can correct a child’s vision, research shows that having severe myopia puts children at risk for a number of eye problems down the road, including retinal detachment, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

Some factors in whether a child develops myopia, such as genetics, are beyond a parent’s control, but research shows that other risks can be reduced.

A review of 25 years of research found that working up close – like reading or using a tablet – increased the odds of myopia.

For example, a nationwide study in Taiwan found that after-school study programs with lots of closeup work were associated with an increased likelihood of nearsightedness among children ages 7 to 12. A study of Chinese schoolchildren found that increased time spent working with the eyes focused on something less than 20 centimeters away was associated with myopia. Researchers in Ireland found that greater than three hours of screen time per day increased the odds of myopia in schoolchildren, and investigators in Denmark found that the risk of myopia approximately doubled in Danish teenagers who used screen devices for more than six hours per day…..

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Source: The hour

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