A group of medical researchers have reviewed the impact of increased digital device usage arising from lockdown measures instituted during the Covid-19 pandemic on myopia, and make recommendations for mitigating potential detrimental effects on myopia control.
Their findings, Digital Screen Time During COVID-19 Pandemic: Risk for a Further Myopia Boom?, published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, suggest that increased digital screen time, near work and limited outdoor activities were found to be associated with the onset and progression of myopia, and could potentially be aggravated during and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak period.
While school closures may be short-lived, increased access, adoption and dependence on digital devices could have a long term negative impact on childhood development, they warn. Raising awareness among parents, children and government agencies is key to mitigating myopigenic behaviours that may become entrenched during this period.
They suggest that there is a possibility that a prolonged battle against the Covid-19 virus may lead to an increase in the incidence of myopia by shaping long term behavioural changes conducive for the onset and progression of myopia.
First, widespread school closures, in-house quarantine and the proliferation of online learning increases digital screen time and the overall time spent on near work while decreasing outdoor time among school-going children.
Second, public policies for the control of myopia in countries of East Asia such as Taiwan and Singapore are closely integrated within the education systems, particularly with respect to the incorporation of outdoor activities into school time.
They say that while it is important to adopt strict measures (e.g., lockdown and home quarantine) to slow or halt the spread of Covid-19, multi-disciplinary collaboration and close partnerships between ministries, schools and parents are necessary to minimise the long term collateral impact of Covid-19 related policies on various health outcomes such as myopia, which was already a major public health concern prior to the pandemic.