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From global pandemic to short sightedness epidemic

From global pandemic to short-sightedness epidemic

Thursday 29 July 2021

Did you know it’s thought that myopia (short-sightedness) could affect half of the world’s population by 2050? And now that we’re coming out the other side of a global pandemic, it is widely believed that we are due an explosion of myopia diagnoses, with a particularly sharp rise in cases amongst adolescents.

There are a couple of reasons for this thinking. The first is that a whole generation of children has spent much more time indoors than previous generations during a crucial time in their eyes’ development. A lack of exposure to natural daylight in the years when young eyes are developing causes damage that’s hard to reverse. Home-schooling exacerbated the length of time children have spent viewing digital screens over the past 18 months. Using tablets, smartphones, and screens has led to long durations spent focusing on short distances. There’s a common misconception that digital screens are the enemy because of factors such as blue light and dry eyes, but it’s unlikely that the electronic display itself is to blame for youngsters developing myopia, and far more likely to be as a result of holding said devices very close for extended periods of time.

The second factor is that there are likely many undiagnosed myopia cases that would ordinarily have come to light had there not been a pandemic. The first signs that a child may be struggling with myopia are often identified in the classroom when a child can’t see the chalkboard. During the pandemic, all of those children have been focused on up-close tasks where that short-sightedness isn’t being discovered or diagnosed.

All that being said, the most significant factor in the onset and progression of short-sightedness in children is parental myopia. A child is highly likely to become short-sighted if both parents are short-sighted.

Research shows that the earlier myopia begins to present in children, the more likely they will have a more severe short-sightedness as adults. A child’s myopia usually continues to progress until around the age of 16, but about 10% of myopic children’s vision continues to worsen into their early 20s. However, timely detection and treatment can slow this progression and significantly reduce the risk of developing other conditions along the line, such as glaucoma and retinal detachment.

Simply spending more time outdoors can play its part in delaying the onset of myopia. Direct sunlight and long-range focusing whilst outside are important factors, along with restricting time spent on tasks that involve focusing on things closer than 40cm from their eyes, in ensuring children are given the best possible opportunities to thrive and develop.

More than anything else, it’s important to remember that there is no substitute for routine eye examinations, especially as children often don’t know that they have vision difficulties. Although serious vision problems during childhood are rare, these tests can identify any problems early on, ensuring children receive the treatment and support they need at the earliest opportunity.


  1. PubMed.
  2. The Conversation.
  3. AOP.
  5. Stats News.
  6. NHS.


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