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5 ways the coronavirus pandemic may be affecting your child’s eyesight

teenage girl doing homework online during covid lockdown

Many adjustments have had to be made in order to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. For many children, education styles have transitioned from in-person learning to virtual classrooms. 

While learning from home amidst COVID-19 lockdowns, stay-at-home orders, and revolving global, state- and nationwide restrictions has been necessary, it may also be affecting your child’s eyesight.

Children are spending more time indoors and in front of their computer and phone screens since the pandemic. At the same time, myopia, which is already common among children, is increasing in numbers around the world.

5 ways the coronavirus pandemic may contribute to childhood myopia

According to a recent study in Feicheng, China, myopia in children between the ages of 6 and 13 began to increase during the coronavirus pandemic, as numbers have continued to grow globally.

Some have even referred to 2020 as “the year of quarantine myopia.” 

How might the COVID-19 pandemic, and all the changes in education and daily habits it’s required, be affecting your child’s eyesight? The following factors may be contributing to the rise in myopia among children during these recent, unprecedented times.

SEE RELATED: Chinese COVID-19 study: Myopia in children

1. Environmental factors 

Environmental factors play an important role in the development of children’s eyesight. At school, children experience changing scenery within the classroom, during physical education and at recess. The more children have to look at, the more movement and proper development their eyes can achieve.

Some children do not have the opportunity to play outdoors or expand their environment beyond the confines of a couple of rooms while schooling at home, which can cause problems for eye and vision development.

Less time spent outdoors may increase the risk of myopia

According to research conducted by Michigan State University, daylight can promote proper growth, development and focus of the eye. 

Researchers found that bright outdoor light can help maintain the proper distance between the retina and lens in a child’s developing eye, which helps the eyes focus correctly. Too much dim indoor lighting, however, can promote the opposite.

Excessive amounts of low light can interfere with the growth of the eye, including the distance between the retina and lens. If the eye becomes too long, it can result in nearsightedness. 

In addition to the risk of improper development of the eyes, excessive dim lighting, especially contrasted with the bright light emitted by screens, can cause eye strain in your child.

2. Focusing on short distances

In classroom environments, blackboards, projectors and teachers themselves at the front of the room encourage children to exercise their eyes by reading and paying attention from a distance. At home, however, learning is primarily done up close, using almost exclusively objects such as computers, tablets and workbooks.

When children primarily focus at short distances, their eyes can become trained to constantly hone in on what is right up close, which can cause eye fatigue. The risk of nearsightedness is higher when eyes are simply not trained to see far away. 

In general, a child’s spatial awareness can be negatively affected when they are focused on items only a few feet away throughout their day.

3. Increased screen time

Virtual learning has become the new normal for thousands of children during the coronavirus pandemic. But while it is convenient (and essential) to educate children in online classrooms, excessive screen time can cause added stress and strain on the eyes.

In addition to causing digital eye strain, dry eyes and blurry vision, increased screen time also increases your child’s exposure to high-energy visible blue light. This added blue light exposure (especially at night and before bedtime) can disrupt normal sleep patterns, which can have a number of health effects.

More research is needed to determine the effect increased blue light exposure from digital devices may have on the development of childhood myopia and potentially other eye problems later in life.

Fortunately, many digital devices include settings that can tone down blue light exposure, such as “night mode,” among other light filtering applications. Blue light glasses are also an option for children who use digital devices for school, and they are available with both prescription and non-prescription lenses.

SEE RELATED: How to take care of your eyes while in self-quarantine

4. Absence of school vision screenings

Schools typically provide both hearing and vision screenings for children during each school year — but for schools that have closed or transitioned into online learning due to COVID-19, these screenings have become unavailable.

Some eye charts can be downloaded for use, and a basic vision test can unofficially be conducted at home. But contact an eye doctor if your child has trouble identifying any letters or symbols on the chart, as he or she may be experiencing nearsightedness. Only an eye doctor can make an official diagnosis of any refractive errors or other eye or vision issues.

5. Vision problems may go unnoticed at home

Vision problems can become difficult to identify when visual interactions and activities every day are limited. Younger children may not be verbal about or know how to express that they are experiencing vision problems.

If you notice your child squinting at his or her work, complaining of blurry vision or headaches, they may be experiencing a vision problem. Contact an eye doctor to schedule an eye exam if this is the case. 

SEE RELATED: Vision problems of school-age children

What to do for your child’s vision at home

Virtual learning can feel rather limiting for both parent and child. When it comes to caring for your child’s vision, there are several ways to do so at home, including the following:

  • Increase your child’s outdoor education and/or playtime.

  • Reduce blue light exposure with blue light glasses or light filtering applications (or by simply limiting their screen time).

  • Encourage your child to participate in activities that don’t require a screen, such as reading books, drawing and coloring, playing games, doing puzzles or helping in the kitchen.

  • Listen to your child’s vision concerns and watch out for squinting, keeping one eye closed or other visual compensation habits they may be exhibiting.

Even in the middle of a pandemic, routine eye exams are still important. Don’t be afraid to contact your eye doctor to schedule an appointment for your child, and don’t hesitate to ask about their office’s COVID-19 safety measures.

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