Over the course of these last few months the COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on the way that children learn and it could be having an impact on their eye health.
From online classroom learning to relaxing screen time rules for television and video games to keep kids occupied while social distancing, many children may be spending less time playing outdoors. The combination of increased screen time and less outdoor time may be harmful to children’s vision and can put them at higher risk of developing myopia or nearsightedness. Increased myopia can lead to serious eye problems in the future, including some potentially blinding diseases.
Some factors which influence whether a child develops myopia, such as genetics, are beyond a parent’s control, but research shows that other risks can be reduced. Time spent outside has been shown to be a protective factor against myopia. It is not clear why outdoors time protects against myopia, or why closeup work could make it worse. One theory is that light intensity and time spent outdoors regulates the release of dopamine in the retina, which controls the growth of the eye. Other theories center on how viewing distances impact where the light is focused on the retina; shorter viewing distances indoors may promote abnormal growth of the eye.
Childhood is an important time to think about myopia because myopic children tend to become more nearsighted over time. The age of myopia onset is the most significant predictor of severe myopia later in life. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends no screen time from ages 0-2 and less than a hour daily from 2-5 years old.
The trouble with excessive screen time is that it eclipses healthy behaviors that all children need. When children gaze passively at screens, they aren’t exercising, playing with their friends or learning important social skills. However, it is important to remember that not all screen time is created equal and time spent communicating with a grandparent over video chat can still be a good way to keep connected during these challenging times.
A few months of excessive screen time won’t override an otherwise healthy childhood of moderate screen time and physical activity. Nonetheless, it is never too early to develop good screen time habits and an active lifestyle. And as summer weather heats up, now is the perfect time to explore the great outdoors! Just don’t forget the sunglasses!
This month enjoy complimentary blue light anti reflective coating on your child’s glasses this month.