I have been four-eyed since I was 19. My prescription for nearsightedness was so mild, however, that I could manage without glasses if I wanted to.
Over the years, my myopia changed only slightly, generally hovering around -1.0. A slight reading prescription was added in middle age, introducing me to the joys of varifocal lenses and a new chance to shop for frames.
Now, after more than a year of being glued to a laptop, desktop, mobile phone or large TV screen, my vision changed. A lot. My prescription would need to more than double in strength, and my reading sight had also considerably worsened. My optometrist said that kind of deterioration in under two years was highly unusual.
It’s not just adults. Myopia has been a growing concern during the pandemic, especially among children. A study published early this year in JAMA Opthamology, using data from Feincheng, China, reported that myopia in children ages 6 to 13 increased by up to three times in 2020 from the period between 2015 and 2019.
The largest decrease in spherical equivalent refraction or SER, used to measure myopia, was found in 6-year-olds. Since older children were exposed to longer hours of screen time, this suggests younger eyes are more sensitive.
The authors cited their results as the first evidence that home confinement during covid and reduced outdoor activity is associated with worsening eyesight. The change in 2020 from previous years is striking.
Myopia is the most common ocular disorder and a leading cause of visual impairment in children. The World Health Organization has warned that prevalence is on the rise; it is estimated to affect 52 percent of the world population by 2050. If you don’t have glasses now, you probably will soon.
The pandemic will almost certainly exacerbate this trend. William Reynolds, president of the American Optometric Association, notes that the increased use of digital devices is likely to result in a surge in eyestrain or other ocular complications.
This has significant implications for poorer regions and the developing world too, since myopia increases the risk of serious (and costly) eye disorders such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts. High myopia can cause serious retinal damage that can lead to blindness.
For those hoping to stay lens-free (or keep their myopia from worsening), optometrists are fond of the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break to view something 20 feet away. Had I been doing that for the past year, I might have been spared the deterioration, as well as the cost of my new frames.