Why the COVID pandemic is causing eye issues in children

▶ Watch Video: Increased screen time during pandemic causing eye problems in kids

As screen time increased for children during the COVID-19 pandemic, their eyesight decreased. Eye issues may be more prevalent in children who spent their school days virtually learning, according to studies. 

Dealing with declining vision is not how 15-year-old Chase Shatzman imagined spending his summer. While learning online during the pandemic, he stared at a screen for about 12 hours a day. 

“I get headaches as a result, I think, of the computer, as well as sometimes my vision gets a little blurry,” Shatzman said. 

Dr. Kammi Gunton, Shatzman’s ophthalmologist, is concerned that many kids are spending too much time looking at screens. 

“There is a sense of their eyes are burning. They’re having to rub their eyes. Some children have said that it’s harder to stay on the line while they’re reading,” Gunton said. 

Gunton led a new study of 10-17 year olds who have been virtually learning during the pandemic and hadn’t had any known eye issues. More than half reported eye strain.

Another international study of more than 120,000 children ages six to eight found cases of myopia, or nearsightedness, increased up to three times during the COVID crisis compared with the previous five years. 

“Concerns have been raised about whether home confinement may have worsened the burden of myopia owing to substantially decreased time spent outdoors and increased screen time at home,” said the international study, which was published in JAMA Ophthalmology in January. 

Gunton shared some signs parents can watch for. “After they’ve been on the screen, they’ll start rubbing their eyes more frequently. You can also see children do some rapid blinking,” she said.

She suggested parents ask children how their eyes feel, take them outside and practice the 20-20 rule. “Every 20 minutes you should take a 20-second break looking at least 20 feet away,” she said. 

Shatzman said he is taking time away from his computer:  “Always good to give your eyes a break.”  

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