Coronavirus: Sharp increase in myopia in children could be linked to pandemic, study finds

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TORONTO – A sharp increase in the development of myopia in children could be linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a study in Hong Kong.

The study, published online this week in the British Journal of Ophthamology, aimed to determine whether behavioral and lifestyle changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic were having an effect on the eyesight of 1,793 children aged six. Eight years.

From this group, the researchers recruited 709 children at the start of the pandemic (December 2019 and January 2020) and studied them over an eight-month period. The other 1,084 children joined the study before the pandemic and were followed for about three years.

Among those in the COVID-19 group, about one in five (19.5%) developed myopia between January and August 2020, compared to one in three (37%) of children in the other group in the three years. A previous study by the same group of researchers found that only 13% of children had developed the disease in a one-year period before the pandemic.

The researchers implied an increase in the time spent in front of a screen and a decrease in the time spent outdoors for the increase in myopia.

The results of this study mirror those of another study from China published earlier this year, which also found that about 20 percent of six-year-olds had developed myopia by 2020. Canadian optometrists have also reported an increase in demands for their services to examine young people, while a survey conducted in British Columbia late last year noted an increase in concerns about eye health during the pandemic.

It should be noted, however, that the Hong Kong study was an observational study, which cannot establish a cause, and included questionnaire data, which relies on the recall. The scope of the study was also limited to children living in Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated cities in the world (about 6,750 people per square kilometer), where many residents live in tall buildings and buildings. small apartments with little outdoor space. Local restrictions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic may also have differed from other locations.

“Despite all of these insurmountable limitations of the study, our initial results still show an alarming progression of myopia that warrants appropriate corrective action,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Nearsightedness, technically called myopia, is a condition where people can only focus on objects that are close to them, while distant objects appear blurry. Although it can be easily corrected with glasses, the study authors say those who develop myopia in childhood are at risk of developing complications that increase the risk of irreversible vision loss later in life.

The researchers added, “(These) findings serve as a warning to eyecare professionals, as well as policy makers, educators and parents, that collective efforts are needed to prevent childhood nearsightedness, a potential public health crisis in recent years. sequel to COVID-19. “

More than 180 countries had closed schools and post-secondary institutions by September 2020, according to the study’s authors. Children have been particularly affected by the pandemic due to restrictions on socialization and outdoor activities.

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