Smartphones – A major reason for pediatric vision problems


By Dr Pradeep Sharma, Director – Paediatric Ophthalmology, Centre For Sight, New Delhi

Taking utmost care of your eyes is essential as they are the most delicate and important organs of the body. But the rising menace of electronic gadgets in personal and office life is turning everyone into gadget addicts. It is important to know that gadgets do not emit any harmful rays or radiations (monochrome or color), The causes of the trouble are constantly gazing at a near distance and decreased rate of blinking.

“Kids nowadays are highly susceptible to digital eye strain, and hence it is the duty of the parents at 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 are trending.

Kids may feel eye fatigue, pain in the eyes, loss of concentration, disturb sleep, headaches, forehead pains, irritability in the eye. 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, leading to accommodative problems and eye irritation.

The addiction!

Often parents provide their mobile phones to kids for entertainment and keep them occupied, assuming that they gain knowledge listening to the rhymes and informative videos. But it may not be completely true, as in the process of digital learning, kids often get addicted to the digital screens, be it mobile phone, smart TV’s or computer.

Average age at which children start using screens has fallen over the past decade from 3-5 years to 12-18 months. Study revealed around 70% Indian parents were worried about impact of screen time on children’s eyes.

Parents should know that a developing child around the age of 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.

Taking precautions amid the Digital schooling

While the pandemic has forced the schools to learn the digital way, it is necessary to take safety measures in the usage of digital devices for online learning, which has become a necessary part now.

1.The posture of sitting, and neck bending should be proper.

2. The devices should be kept at a reasonable distance depending on it being a mobile, I-pad or laptop. TV monitors at about 7 times the diagonal distance are the safest.

3. Children should follow the simple 20-20-20 rule: Look every 20 minutes at an object at 20 feet for at least 20 seconds to relax the accommodation and convergence muscles.

4. Use lubricant eye drops as children forget to blink their eyes and constant state caused dryness of eyes.

Signs that a child may have vision problems include:

· constant eye rubbing

· extreme light sensitivity

· poor focusing

· poor visual tracking (following an object)

· abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after 6 months of age)

· chronic redness and tearing of the eye

· a white pupil instead of black

It’s important for parents to watch their child for signs of poor vision or crossed eyes and get their child examined right away so that the problem doesn’t become permanent. If caught early, eye conditions often can be corrected.

Safe time with digital Screen

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. Kids under 5 years of age having any kind of vision problems should be examined properly at the right time. 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.

Once the kid is over 12 years, various apps and video games have started consuming their valuable time as well as eye health. Restricting their time spent on digital games, parents should encourage their kids for physical activities and outdoor sports.

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 must for kids of any age after 5 years of age. It is in the hands of the parents as to how to take care of their kids. Timely detection of poor vision at early age can help in better treatment.

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