While there is no safe time limit for screen time, especially among kids under the age of 5 years, judicious use of screens helps avoid myopia at an early stage of life, advises Dr Mahipal Singh Sachdev
Myopia (nearsightedness) being the most widely spread vision defect, is very common and is estimated to affect atleast one-fifth of the global population, accounting for at least 45% among adults, and 25% among children. Nearsightedness as the name suggests, has no trouble focusing near objects, but the inability of the eye to focus distant objects is a very common refractive error. Apart from the prominence of genetic factors where the risk factor for development of myopia in children doubles when both the parents are near-sighted, environmental factors and the digital reformation has also added to the burden at an alarming rate.
Unattended or uncorrected nearsightedness is the most common cause of vision loss, developing cataract, macular degeneration, retinal detachment or glaucoma.
The prevalence of myopia has shown a rising trend in the past few decades worldwide and in India too. Kids including school going children involved in smartphones and digital screens has led to increased screen time and near work. This impacts the learning and progress of Kids. If not checked in time, can cause future complications related to eyes. Kids nowadays are highly susceptible to digital eye strain, and hence it is the duty of the parents of utmost priority to ensure keeping them away from being addicted to digital screens. It is almost impractical to separate children and technology. Be it for educational purposes, or fun time, staring at digital devices like smartphones, tablets, LED screens and computers is trending.
Kids may feel eye fatigue, pain in the eyes, loss of concentration, disturbness in sleep, headaches, forehead pains, irritability in eyes. It may aggravate myopia in pre-disposed children.
Childhood blindness is one of the priority targets of Vision 2020—Right To Sight due to its impact on the psychological and social growth of the child. Global estimates on childhood blindness show that there are around 1.42 million and 17.52 million children suffering from blindness and moderate to severe visual impairment, respectively. It has been observed that unlike adult blindness that is 80% avoidable (either preventable or treatable), in children, less than 50% of the causes are avoidable.
One unique aspect of how children use computers may make them more susceptible than adults to the development of vision problems. Because of the limited degree of self-awareness of children, most of them keep performing an enjoyable task (e.g. playing video games) with great concentration, for many hours, until exhaustion, with few, if any, breaks, aggravate problems and eye irritation.
Parents should understand that a growing child aged around 2-3 years still has their retina developing and prolonged usage of such devices with bright light has 70% chances of affecting their vision (by damaging a part of the retina). Depending on the age bracket of kids, parents should ensure that they (kids) spend minimum time in front of digital screens. A 2-3-year-old kid is highly attracted towards videos and activities online be it on the big screen or mobile phone. Parents are required to minimize that time period in order to protect their vision.
While there is no safe time limit for screen time especially among kids under the age of 5 years, it is strictly advised to keep them away from gadgets in order to protect them from developing any predisposed eye ailment. This problem can be managed by maintaining visual hygiene, less screen times, screen distance should be proper and eye exercise. School going kids can have a screen time of around 1 hour daily be it for educational purpose or relaxation and the time can be extended to upto two hours during holidays.
In India, it is estimated that there are 0.8 blind for 1000 children. Whole globe lesions, corneal scarring, retinal pathology and afflictions of the lens are important anatomical sites in children. Early detection and prompt management are critical for the success of programs targeting avoidable blindness in children.
A regular visit to the ophthalmologist is a must for kids of any age after 5 years of age. Timely detection of poor vision at an early age can ensure better treatment.
(The author is Padma Awardee, Chairman & Director, Centre For Sight Group of Eye Hospitals)