Experts say myopia cases could rise due to more near-vision activities, less outdoor time
By Denis Langlois
With Canadian children heading back to classrooms this month, new research is suggesting the COVID-19 pandemic may give rise to an epidemic of myopia.
A 2021 study from China concluded that home confinement, aimed at curbing the virus’s spread, appears to be associated with a “substantial myopic shift” for children aged six to eight.
The study, published in the vision health journal JAMA Ophthalmology, discovered the prevalence of myopia increased 1.4 to three times in 2020 compared to the previous five years.
The researchers say the school-aged participants spent the first part of 2020 largely confined to their homes due to pandemic-related public health measures. That resulted in more near-vision activities, including for remote learning, and a drop in outdoor activity, both of which are known to impact myopia in children.
“Concerns have been raised about whether home confinement may worsen the burden of myopia. To our knowledge, we provide the first evidence that the concern may be justified, especially for younger children aged six to eight years,” the study’s authors say.
Meanwhile, a June 2021 Canadian study suggests the pandemic may have generated near-vision habits in children, which experts warn could impact their eye health, including myopia.
“Since the pandemic, children have been spending more time inside, relying on their near-vision more and more for everyday activities, including online learning, connecting with friends and family and entertainment,” says Dr. Debbie Jones, clinical professor of optometry at the University of Waterloo and clinical scientist at the Centre for Ocular Research & Education.
“As the pandemic and this dependency on online activities persists, we are finding that these activities may be contributing to eye strain and possibly resulting in myopia. What we should make sure of is that these new near-vision habits do not become the new norm.”
The study by CooperVision Canada and Maru/Blue involved 509 Canadian parents with children under age 14 at home. It was completed in May.
According to the survey, about 59 per cent of the Canadian parents reported their children were spending more time doing activities that require near-vision compared to before the pandemic.
About a quarter of those parents said the extra time exceeded five hours a day, while almost half said their kids would spend an extra three to four hours on a nearsighted activity.
The study also found that about 42 per cent of children spent less time outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic than before the health emergency took hold in March 2020.
The Canadian Association of Optometrists says myopia, which affects about 30 per cent of Canada’s population, is a significant public health issue that can cause numerous long-term problems, from glaucoma and early cataracts to retinal detachments and myopic degeneration.
The global prevalence of myopia is expected to climb from 27 per cent in 2010 to 50 per cent by 2050.
The CAO said the prevalence of myopia in Canada is not only increasing, but is occurring at earlier ages and progressing at rates faster than seen in previous generations.
And that was in the advent of COVID-19 lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and remote learning.
Although all signs point to myopia cases continuing to rise, the good news is that many organizations, including the World Council of Optometry, along with optical companies and eye care professionals are now more focused than ever on educating people about and finding ways to address the myopia epidemic.
Several companies have launched new, innovative products aimed at slowing the progression of the vision condition in children.
A BRILLIANT FUTURE
CooperVision launched in Canada late last year its Brilliant Futures Myopia Management Program.
The program features CooperVision’s MiSight 1 day daily disposable contact lenses, the first soft contact lens clinically proven to slow the progression of myopia in age-appropriate children.
It also includes ongoing education and support via a MiSightPro resource portal, support from a dedicated Myopia Management Specialist to answer any questions and product shipping, including directly to patients’ homes.
CooperVision’s landmark clinical study has revealed that nearly one in four children’s eyes originally fit with MiSight 1 day remained stable in their myopia level after six years. The study previously established the lens to be effective in slowing myopia progression in age-appropriate children by an average of 59 per cent over a three-year period, as measured by spherical refraction.
MiSight 1 day won a 2020 Popular Science “Best of What’s New Award” in the health category late last year.
CooperVision is at the forefront of tackling myopia progression, sponsoring an American Academy of Ophthalmology initiative to protect children from the consequences of high myopia and supporting myopia-focused programs from the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness.
Another leader in myopia treatment is HOYA with its MiYOSMART lenses launched last year.
“The incidence of myopia is expected to increase significantly as lifestyles change,” explains James Slipper from HOYA marketing. “If left untreated, myopia can lead to lasting vision problems.”
A new study out this year showed that the MiyoSmart lens reduced myopia progression by 60 per cent compared to children wearing traditional single-vision glasses.