Written by Sesamus Flynn, Optometrist
Since the start of the COVID pandemic many of us have been studying and working from home and in most cases spending much more time using laptops and other digital devices.
Even if we were one of the lucky ones to continue working throughout the lockdown, it resulted in most of us spending more time using digital screens as we have been couped up indoor much more than we would otherwise be.
This has caused a different type of pandemic, a worldwide increase in the amount of people becoming short-sighted or myopic.
It is now increasing at an alarming rate of over one million cases a week globally(1)
A recent study(2) of over 120,000 children showed that the level of myopia increased by up to three times the Pre-Covid level which is being directly attributed to the amount of time spent indoors and using hand held digital devices.
This is of particular concern as children are now being diagnosed as myopic much earlier and it has been shown that the earlier myopia develops the more it will progress and the more likely the myopia will result in irreversible vision loss or blindness.
Some parts of the world are increasing even faster with a staggering 96.5% of 19 year old men in Seoul, South Korea now short sighted according to a recent study.
What is causing this explosion in myopia?
One of the biggest causes, especially in children, is the over usage of digital devices such as smartphones and tablets which are being held at close distances to the eyes. Using these devices for extended periods of time causes a strain on the visual system. The eyes and associated muscles get used to focusing at a close distance and while everything appears clear at this distance the long-distance vision can deteriorate. The longer the length of time doing close concentrated work, the more of a problem this becomes.
In order to tackle this problem children should be encouraged to spend time playing outdoors as much as possible and to get their eyes used to focusing in the far distance. A recent study has shown that exposure to sunlight reduces the progression of myopia as well as eating leafy dark green vegetables which increases the blood levels of lutein.
Increase in cases of dry eye
The pandemic has also caused a big increase in the number of cases of dry eye.
The reason for this is that we don’t blink as much when we are doing close concentrated work such as staring at screens and hand held digital devices. Blinking restores our tear film and prevents our eyes from drying out so when we blink less due to looking at screens it means that the tear film is being inadequately replenished and results in dry eye.
Mask-related dry eye has also sky-rocketed in the last year. This is caused when you breath out whilst wearing a mask and the air-flow escapes through the top of the mask and across the surface of your eye. This dries out the ocular surface resulting in the eyes feeling dry and irritated.
Increase in digital eye strain
Digital eye strain has also increased greatly in the last year. This is caused when we are exposed to blue light from digital screens for two or more hours a day. Much more people have been exposed to this because of having to work and study from home. The blue light from digital devices are high energy wavelengths and cause a stress on the visual system resulting in symptoms of eyestrain, tired eyes, headaches and difficulty sleeping. Reducing your exposure to digital screens or wearing anti blue light glasses helps to reduce these symptoms
1) Global Prevalence of Myopia and High Myopia and Temporal Trends from 2000 through 2050
2) Progression of Myopia in School-Aged Children After COVID-19 Home Confinement