The biggest pandemic of our time has been discussed for years.
But there truly is a tale of two pandemics with COVID and myopia. And there is a correlative link between the two that begs more research and investigation. COVID has caused massive changes to our biological, social, psychological, and economic climates. We have spoken to patients in their 80s and older who tell us that 2020 was the strangest year of their lives.
But what about myopia? Most practicing eyecare practitioners know from mere clinical observation over the last few decades that myopia is on the rise—particularly among children. Younger and younger children are coming into the office with complaints of compromised distance vision. Current research on the epidemiology shows myopia growing in leaps and bounds just over the last few decades (Foster and Jiang, 2014).
What is interesting, then, is the possible link between the environmental changes brought on by COVID and its impact on myopia. Are home confinement and quarantine during the COVID pandemic the primary cause for increase in myopia in 2020? Time spent outdoors certainly decreased due to home confinement in 2020 (Wang et al, 2021). Could that greater amount of indoor time increase the risk and incidence of myopia in a short span of time?
The answer seems to be overwhelmingly “yes.” A study of more than 120,000 children aged 6 to 13 years was conducted, comparing myopia prevalence in the years from 2015 to 2020. The results were astounding. When comparing the year with the highest rate between 2015 and 2019 with 2020, young children, particularly aged 6 to 8 years, had an alarming increase in myopia.
For instance, in the 6-year-old cohort, the prevalence was found to be only 5.7% in 2015 to 2019, versus an astounding 21.5% in 2020 (Wang et al, 2021). You can debate correlation versus causation all you want, but it’s a stark contrast no matter what. From an eyecare viewpoint, what does this mean?
It means that managing myopia is probably the biggest thing in eye care right now. Its prevalence and its epidemic proportions will touch every practice everywhere. We know there are many more tools than ever before for treating the disease of myopia, rather than just compensating for symptoms of blurred vision with spectacle lenses. Eyecare practitioners have the clinical skills and professional obligation to tackle this big problem, especially amongst our smallest patients—children. CLS
- Foster PJ, Jiang Y. Epidemiology of myopia. Eye (Lond). 2014 Feb;28:202-208.
- Wang J, Li Y, Musch DC, et al. Progression of Myopia in School-Aged Children After COVID-19 Home Confinment. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2021 Mar;139:293-300.