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Is remote learning causing eye problems for young children?

"More kids end up wearing glasses"
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Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-02 20:58:12-04

AMHERST, NY (WKBW) — Is remote learning changing eyesight in young children?

A report shows nearsightedness in children between six and eight years old was three times higher during the pandemic than in the previous five years.

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Equipment used for eye exams at the Ross Eye Institute in Amherst.

Researchers say the increase is caused by an the higher amount of time children are spending in front of screens during the pandemic.

Dr. James Reynolds, at the Ross Eye Institute in Amherst, was examining young children Wednesday when we asked him about this latest study.

Dr. Reynolds, an expert in pediatric ophthalmology, is also professor and chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

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Dr. James Reynolds, at the Ross Eye Institute in Amherst, exams patient.

Reynolds says this latest study reinforces the long-time theory that working prolong periods of time, up close, will lead to nearsightedness — a change in your eyesight for distance.

But Reynolds says he's not surprised by the findings, considering more than a year of remote learning.

“When kids are in a virtual world they’re typically not in school — not doing black board work — not doing work at 20 to 30 feet, not necessarily getting outside — not going to gym — not doing all these kind of things,” Dr. Reynolds explained.

The study, appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), concluded that home confinement from the pandemic is associated with a significant shift of nearsightedness for children ages six to eight years.

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Conclusion of study.

However, Dr. Reynolds tells me the change is to their eye sight is “minor”. He says it was considered a ‘third of a unit’ in how eyesight loss is measured.

“And a third of a unit is visually insignificant — patients wouldn't really notice a third of a unit,” noted Dr. Reynolds.

Other pediatricians, including Dr. Kaufman, a partner at Buffalo Pediatrics Associates, agree with Dr. Reynolds.

“Are you surprised by that result?” Buckley questioned. “Not in the slightest,” replied Dr. Kaufman. “This is actually not surprising to those of us who have been looking at large populations studies about nearsightedness.”

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Dr. Kaufman, a partner at Buffalo Pediatrics Associates.

Dr. Kaufman says long before the pandemic, there was a large study from China showing a strong association between the number of hours spent indoors and the likelihood of being nearsighted.

“But the working theory is that when you're outdoors, you're looking at things both near and far to you — your eyes are adjusting and repositioning for different kinds of sight and that's good for your eye health,” remarked Dr. Kaufman.

Both doctors say the study provides important information, but parents should not be too worried.

“It is meaningful. It’s interesting science. It is a starting point to ask good questions, but it doesn't mean that every child who did distance learning this year is going to struggle with nearsightedness,” Dr. Kaufman remarked.

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Examining room at Ross Eye Institute in Amherst.

“And what that means is more kids end up wearing glasses and that's a distinct negative,” Dr. Reynolds replied.

“How concerning is that to you?” Buckley asked.

“It’s way less important to me, even though I’m an eye surgeon, then many of the other problems that we see with virtual learning,” responded Dr. Reynolds.