While the horizon of a return to normal seems less distant, a new survey by CooperVision Canada and Maru/Blue1 suggests that the pandemic may have generated near-vision habits, which according to experts could have an impact on the eye health of Canadian children, including myopia2. More commonly called nearsightedness, myopia is the inability to see objects clearly at a distance and can be worsened by the overuse of near vision3 and the lack of natural light4. There are things parents and children can do to make sure those pandemic vision habits don’t stick.
Near vision activities include things like prolonged time spent on screens, reading or writing. According to the survey, nearly six-in-ten (59 per cent) Canadian parents reported their children under 14 were spending more time doing activities that require their near vision compared to before the pandemic1. Among them, 27 per cent even indicated this extra time exceeded five hours a day, while nearly half (47 per cent) said their children would spend an extra three to four hours a day on nearsighted activities5‡. While near vision has been associated with higher incidences of developing myopia3, the changes in lifestyle and screen consumption resulting from the pandemic could pose long-term concerns for Canadian children’s eye health2.
“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. 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,” said Dr. Debbie Jones, Clinical Professor of Optometry at the University of Waterloo and Clinical Scientist at the Centre for Ocular Research & Education. “While late or undetected childhood myopia can lead to even bigger problems later in life6 such as cataracts, glaucoma and retinal degeneration7, it can be difficult for parents to spot symptoms of myopia early on, as children would have no point of comparison to be able to tell if they are not seeing well,” added Jones.
Myopia needs to be managed on an ongoing basis and it starts with playing outside more4
Eye care professionals recommend monitoring eye health in children at regular intervals, starting as young as six months old, before they start school and annually8. However, the survey revealed that a little over half (55 per cent) of Canadian parents get their children’s vision checked at least once a year. An additional 20 per cent reported having their children’s eyes monitored every two or more years, and 24 per cent have never had their child’s vision checked1+.
Not surprisingly, four-in-ten (42 per cent) Canadian parents surveyed by Maru/Blue for CooperVision also agreed their children are spending less time outside compared to prior to the COVID-19 pandemic1+. This is a contributing concern for their eye health, according to experts, who point to the lack of outdoor time due to quarantine as another environmental factor leading to myopia9.
“The human body was not designed for us to only use our vision inside,” added Jones. “Spending time outside is encouraged as it has been shown to have a preventative effect and can delay the onset of myopia4, this should be easier now that the summer is here! Engaging children in outdoor activities that do not involve using their near vision, making sure they keep a reasonable distance from their books, tablets or TVs, and ensuring they take regular breaks are good first steps to help prevent early symptoms. While using regular eyeglasses and contact lenses can help children see distance objects clearly, these will not slow down the progression of their myopia. Myopia can worsen over time and worsen if appropriate interventions are delayed10, so it is crucial to monitor children’s eyes with regular eye examinations from a young age and enroll in a trusted myopia management program to help reduce its progression.”
An online survey of 509 Canadians parents with child(ren) at home under 14 years old was completed between May 7th and May 11th, 2021, using Maru/Blue’s online panel. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 3%, 19 times out of 20.