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Number of children with myopia increasing steeply

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By Yoon Ja-young

The number of children experiencing myopia, or nearsightedness, is increasing steeply in Korea, where the majority of the population already experience vision problems. Doctors say that it seems to be related to the rise of online classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a survey at Kim's Eye Hospital, 74.9 percent of the young patients below the age of 15, who visited the clinic during the one-year period between April 2020 and March 2021, were myopia patients. That figure is up 6.6 percentage points from the figure for the same period a year ago. April 2020 was when schools across the country started offering online classes due to the pandemic.

Doctors say that it can be assumed that the increase in young myopia patients is related to the rise of online classes, involving more frequent use of digital display devices.

"After the implementation of online classes, the number of children visiting the clinic due to myopia increased. Though we would not jump to the conclusion that the two are directly related, it does seem that one is affecting the other," said Dr. Kim Ung-soo at the Strabismus and Pediatric Ophthalmology Center in Kim's Eye Hospital.

Korea already has one of the world's highest percentages of myopia patients. According to the Korean Ophthalmological Society, eight out of 10 Korean teenagers have nearsightedness, which means there are more glasses-wearers than those without glasses. Even if one meets someone without glasses in Korea, chances are that the person is probably wearing contact lens, or had vision-correcting surgery, such as Lasik or Lasek.

According to Kim, concentrating on something a very short distance away for a long time, as students do during online classes, can cause a range of eye problems, such as pseudomyopia and dry eye syndrome. It is especially a problem for children as their eyes are still developing. As the eye continues this close functioning the lens becomes overworked, which can result in pseudomyopia and accelerate myopia, the doctor explained.

"Online education is likely to continue during the COVID-19 era. Students need to be taught how they should properly watch digital devices," Kim said, giving tips such as maintaining a 50- centimeter distance between the screen and the eyes, and taking a 10-minute rest after every 40 or 50 minutes of class. Kim said it is helpful for device users to look at far away objects or to shut their eyes completely to refresh tired eyes.

Yoon Ja-young

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