Optometrists are concerned over children’s extended screentime during pandemic

Over the last 18 months, many children have had to learn from home which has led to unprecedented levels of screen time and experts are concerned it’s having a detrimental effect on their eyes.

Alyssa Boroditsky, a partner at Transcona Optical, told 680 CJOB that nearsightedness is always a concern at this time of year, especially among younger ones who are heading back to school in the fall.

“We do often see a lot of this in general, especially back to school time. We are seeing a lot of kids in general and so that is one of the most common conditions that we do see in children now.”

She says if you see any symptoms such as squinting at far-away objects, you should book your child in for an eye exam.

Children may complain of headaches, sore eyes, or having trouble seeing at night, she says. “Some kids will rub their eyes but then there are kids that don’t complain at all and we just pick that up in a routine eye exam.”

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Borodisky says it could take a while for evidence to prove it, but she wouldn’t be shocked to see a big uptick in the number of people who are nearsighted in the future.

“The evidence is still a bit inconclusive so we don’t know exactly the details on it. But there is some thought that being indoors and screentime are contributing. So you know, the more time we can spend our time outside, the better.”

Nearly 30 per cent of the Canadian population is nearsighted, according to the Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) in 2018.

CAO recommends children have an eye exam by at least the age of three and consult with their optometrist on the latest options to help reduce the progression of nearsightedness.

This concern was also spoken about pre-pandemic and now in the pandemic world, children are simply using their electronics more than usual.

Back in 2018, Winnipeg optometrist Kaeleigh Carrick told Global News that at least half the patients she sees under the age of 18 need a prescription.

Read more: Manitoba’s back-to-school plan compared to other provinces

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According to CAO guidelines, no screen time is recommended for children under two. Preschoolers should get no more than one hour of screen time. Children over five should have less than five hours in front of a screen. It also recommends kids avoid using a screen an hour before bed.

However, the above guidelines have been hard to follow since COVID-19 came into play as the pandemic has forced children to stare at screens longer for classes, school work and general entertainment after the majority of activities were cancelled.

“What I have seen significantly increased is people coming in with dry eye that have none of these predisposing factors at all — a healthy three-year-old, a healthy five-year-old. The only thing that I can account for, and a lot of studies have done this, is basically increased screen time.” London, Ont.-based optometrist Mohammad Lawendy told Global News in March.

The CAO points to a study out of China that found a steep increase in the prevalence of myopia among children in 2020, when kids were confined to the home due to the pandemic, compared with the previous five years.

The study used data from school-based photo screenings of 123,535 children aged six to 13 from 10 elementary schools in Feicheng, China, and found that the prevalence of myopia increased 1.4 to three times in 2020 among kids age six to eight, compared with the previous five years. A minimal difference was found in children aged nine to 13 years, according to the study.

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with files from Global’s Jacquelyn LeBel and Joe Scarpelli

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