An epidemic of nearsightedness or nearsightedness occurs at a young age. Too much screen time and not enough outdoor time have been identified as possible culprits.
- Technology has penetrated the way we live, and in many cases, from morning to late at night, has dramatically changed the way humans use their eyes in a very short period of time.
- The prevalence of nearsightedness (myopia) has increased in recent decades, especially in East Asia, and this number is expected to get worse over the next 50 years
- In some Asian populations, especially college students, the prevalence of myopia exceeds 90%
- When a person is nearsighted, their eyeballs become longer, an irreversible anatomical change that increases the risk of serious vision problems, including blindness
- Home confinement due to COVID-19 pandemic linked to worsening myopia in children
- There is no cure for myopia; prevention is a better option, spending more time outdoors – and much less time on screens – is key, especially for children
Nearsightedness, or nearsightedness, can cause distant objects to appear blurry, while close objects appear sharp. One of the biggest risk factors for myopia is that a parent also has this vision problem.1 As such, it has been considered a major genetic disorder – until recently.
Talk to The Atlantic, Dr. Marina Su, an optometrist in New York City, noticed that more children in her clinic had vision loss, even though their parents had perfect vision. “If it’s just genetics, then why are these kids myopic?” she said.2 Myopia is on the rise globally — not just in New York City — and there is debate about what’s driving this change.
Leading the charge is the theory that technology—especially staring at screens all day—is to blame, causing vision problems in younger and younger generations, which could lead to a “blindness epidemic in decades to come.” Michael Repka, professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins University.3
The prevalence of myopia has increased in recent decades, especially in East Asia, and this number is expected to get worse over the next 50 years. In 2019, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) established the Myopia Task Force to address the “substantial increase in the global prevalence of myopia and its associated complications.”4
A report by the working group stated that the prevalence of myopia is expected to increase from 1.406 billion people (22.9% of the population) in 2000 to 4.758 billion people (49.8% of the population) in 2050.5 Severe myopia, known as high myopia, is also expected to increase, from 163 million people (2.7% of the population) in 2000 to 938 million (9.8% of the population) in 2050.6
For some Asian populations, especially college students, the prevalence of myopia exceeds 90%.7 Among young adults in East and Southeast Asia, 80% to 90% have myopia and 10% to 20% have high myopia. The tendency to study for long periods of time and do “close work” with the eyes has long been associated with poor eyesight.8 According to The Atlantic:9
“Historically, British doctors found myopia to be more common among Oxford students than recruits, and more common in ‘stricter’ town schools than in rural schools. A late 19th-century ophthalmology manual even suggested replacing Air and avoid all eye work to treat myopia – “If possible, take a sea voyage. “
This is a worrying trend that goes well beyond the inconvenient need for glasses. The truth is that technology has permeated the way we live and, in many cases, has dramatically changed the way humans use their eyes in a very short period of time, from morning to late at night.
“A long time ago, humans were hunter-gatherers,” Bay Area optometrist Liandra Jung told The Atlantic. “We rely on keen long-range vision to track prey and find ripe fruit. Now our modern life is close and indoors. “To get food, we forage through Uber Eats,” she said.10
The increasing incidence of myopia in children, combined with the high rate of progression, paints a particularly bad picture for the future, which could easily lead to a “high myopia epidemic” even among children aged 11 to 13.11 When a person is nearsighted, their eyeballs become longer, an irreversible anatomical change that increases the risk of serious vision problems, especially later in life.
By age 75, 3.8 percent of people with myopia and 39 percent of people with high myopia have “uncorrectable visual impairment,” according to the AAO task force.12 In other words, myopia increases the risk of conditions that can lead to permanent blindness, including retinal detachment, cataracts, and glaucoma, even when the severity of myopia is low to moderate.13
The broad clinical and societal impact of increased myopia prevalence requires a “globally coordinated response,” AAO task force explained14 Especially since the younger a person is at onset, the faster the progression.15 AAO added:16
“Uncorrectable visual impairment due to myopia is projected to increase 7- to 13-fold by 2055 in high-risk areas. The public health burden of myopia exceeds the direct costs associated with optical correction of refractive errors and includes socioeconomic impact and reduced eligibility for life related to visual impairment.”
In China, large-scale changes have been implemented to address the growing trend of myopia in children. In addition to restricting video games, no written tests are conducted until third grade, and metal bars have even been added to desks, so children are forced to stay away from their homework.17
As the rate of technological development continues to grow exponentially, it is not clear whether anyone has ever envisioned how society will become so addicted to staring at screens that our waking hours are dominated in one form or another by them.
Vision is affected as a result. Intensive education (i.e. more study) and limited time outdoors are major risk factors for the prevalence of myopia, according to a group of experts writing in the journal Advances in Retina and Ophthalmology.18 They write:
“The localization of the epidemic appears to be due to high educational pressures and limited time outdoors in the region, rather than due to increased genetic susceptibility to these factors.
The causality of outdoor time was demonstrated through randomized clinical trials in which increased time spent outdoors at school prevented the development of myopia. In the context of educational stress, evidence for causality comes from Jewish boys in Israeli Orthodox schools who have higher prevalence of myopia and high myopia than their sisters attending religious schools, and boys and girls attending secular schools.
Increasing outdoor time at school to slow the onset of myopia, combined with clinical approaches to slowing myopia progression, should bring the epidemic under control, which would otherwise pose a major health challenge. Reforms to the organization of the school system to reduce intense early competition for accelerated learning pathways may also be important. “
The AAO also stated: “Excessive time spent indoors increases the risk of myopia in children. Research shows that more time outdoors in natural light can reduce the risk in children.”19 Likewise, French researchers describe “outdoor activities” as one of the most promising treatments for myopia in children.20
There was a further alarming increase in children’s myopia in 2020, when stay-at-home lockdowns kept more of the already naturally hungry population indoors. Home confinement due to the COVID-19 pandemic is associated with worsening myopia in children, a study found. Compared with five years ago, the prevalence of myopia in children aged 6 to 8 increased by 1.4 to 3 times in 2020.twenty one
Another study, published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, described digital screen time during the COVID-19 pandemic as a “risk of further myopia boom.” They wrote in 2021: “Increased digital screen time, near work, and limited outdoor activities were found to be associated with the development and progression of myopia, and may be exacerbated during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”twenty two
As myopia worsens in young children, treatments aimed at controlling myopia or myopia management are becoming more popular. Myopia control clinics are popping up in wealthy parts of the United States and are also common in China. Myopia control aims to slow the rate of axial elongation that occurs in the disease.twenty three
Treatments include atropine eye drops, multifocal soft contact lenses, and orthokeratology lenses (OrthoK), which are worn overnight. OrthoK contact lenses reshape the transparent front layer of the eyeball, changing the way light enters the eye and helping improve vision.twenty four
However, there is no cure for myopia. They can only slow down its progress. Prevention is a better option, and spending more time outdoors — and far less time on screens — is key, especially in young children.
Technology is interfering with vision in many ways, not only because people spend a lot of time focusing on close-up screens, but because they are exposed to blue light in the process. Data presented at the 60th European Society of Pediatric Endocrinology Annual Meeting further showed that prolonged exposure to blue light was associated with earlier puberty, lower melatonin levels, higher levels of certain reproductive hormones and ovarian changes in rats.25
The LEDs found in many screens have little to no beneficial infrared light and excess blue light, produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damage your vision and can lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD),26 This is the leading cause of blindness among older Americans. LED lights can also exacerbate mitochondrial dysfunction, leading to chronic diseases ranging from metabolic disorders to cancer.
“While inconclusive, we suggest minimising the use of blue light-emitting devices in prepubertal children, especially at night where exposure may have the greatest hormonal changing effects,” said Dr. Aylin Kilinç Uğurlu said in a press release.
If you watch the screen at night, you must prevent your exposure to blue light during this time. For your computer, you can install a program to automatically lower the color temperature of the screen. Also, be sure to wear blue light blocking glasses after sunset when watching TV or other screens. Better yet, eliminate screen use entirely after sunset, especially for young children who are most vulnerable to harmful effects.
Originally published on October 4, 2022 on Mercola.com