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Fears Kids' Eye Disorder Will Surge In Lockdown, But You Can Now 'See' An Optometrist From Your Couch

While lockdowns are an essential step to help curb the spread of coronavirus, optometrists are worried our children’s eyesight will be inadvertently compromised.

Myopia (which is short or near-sightedness) is becoming a major public health crisis that was already having a significant impact on young Australians.

Scientists know that a person’s environment is related to whether they develop myopia, and believe that staring at computer screens and gadgets is a major contributor to this epidemic.

Behavioural optometrist Gary Rodney, who specialises in myopia prevention and is a fellow of the International Academy of Orthokeratology and Myopia Control, is concerned that social distancing and extra time at home will exacerbate the already growing myopia problem among both adults and children.

"It could spike the myopia epidemic’s curve by increasing prevalence and speeding up its progression," he said.

"It’s taking children’s focus away from certain activities and shifting it to others, some of which have long been identified as possible causes for increasing myopic progression.”

Image: Getty

Myopia also increases a child's risk of developing serious conditions later in life that could significantly impair vision, with eye diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration, and possible blindness in the elderly.

Global forecasts suggest it could affect every second Australian by 2050.

In recent weeks OPSM -- which has more than 370 stores in Australia and New Zealand -- launched tele-optometry services. About half of the stores have closed in the short-term.

Antoinette Lattouf

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"When we do tele-optometry of course it is not a substitute for a complete physical in-store examination," Peter Murphy, OPSM Director of Eyecare and Community told 10 daily.

Using video-conferencing technology, optometrists will ask patients a series of simple questions to evaluate their eyesight, make an informed diagnosis and help guide them through next steps, including appropriate management and referrals.

"With kids homeschooling and a lot of online learning, young kids (and the rest of us in fact) spend a lot more time in front of screens, and this is related to the increase in prevalence of myopia as well as causing eye strain and dry eye," Murphy said.

Image: OPSM

The consultations are free, even though they're not covered by Medicare, and the service is offering extended operating hours for emergency service workers.

"We recently had a midwife who needed a consultation later at night after her shift, so we are able to cater for healthcare workers with longer hours," he said.

He added OPSM also seeks to be more accessible for  people with disabilities, those  living in remote communities and aged care facilities.

While virtual eye checks have been available in a limited capacity by smaller, independent optometrists in the past, only now are they available to all Australians.

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Replacing glasses, refilling contact lens prescriptions and providing a "eye care triage" are some of the services offered via tele-optometry.

In March, the industry's peak body Optometry Australia released guidelines for the industry to help support its services to telehealth.

It also has recommendations for how to reduce eye strain during these tech-reliant times.

"To minimise this, you should take a break every 20 minutes and look at an object six meter away for at least 20 seconds. You can also change your computer display brightness, increase font size and minimize glare with proper lighting."

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au