Updated: Feb 15, 2021
We are only just beginning to understand the long-term health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to the direct consequences of the virus, researchers are beginning to study the effects of social distancing, mandatory quarantines and home confinement.
In a recent study published in JAMA Ophthalmology,* researchers reported the yearly prevalence of myopia (nearsightedness) in over 100,000 children from 2015-2020. They found a huge increase in the number of kids who developed nearsightedness in 2020 - after 5 months of quarantine and mandatory home confinement.
Among 6 year olds, there was an increase in myopia of almost 400%. There were also increases in other age groups (200% increase in 7 year olds and 40% increase in 8 year olds). This increase was significantly worse than any previous year-to-year changes (2015-2019). Interestingly, older children in the study (9-12) did not get worse.
Quarantine home confinement is closely associated with increased near work (including screen time) and decrease in healthy behaviors such as outdoor activities and sports. I highly suspect that these lifestyle changes are closely linked to this increase in myopia prevalence.
Why should we care? Severe nearsightedness (high myopia) is associated with vision-threatening complications such as myopic retinal degeneration and retinal detachment.
This study suggests that quarantine myopia is real. More research needs to be done, but this is concerning. Hopefully, if future lockdowns are necessary, parents and educators can be more mindful about promoting healthy habits and outdoor play time for children.