During lockdown, screens have become a lifeline for parents and children, especially when it comes to staying connected and keeping up with entertainment and online school. While limiting screen time may have been possible before, it has become a key source in staying plugged in while at home.
However, all that time being glued to a screen can be terrible for the eyes—and this impact is only worsened for children. “Excessive screen time leads to dryness of eyes, worsening of myopia (nearsightedness), and muscle imbalance,” says Dr Ashwin Sainani, paediatric ophthalmologist, PD Hinduja Hospital and Medical Research Centre. This redness, lack of blinking and dryness is commonly known as “Computer Vision Syndrome,” confirms Dr Sunil Vasani, Mumbai-based ophthalmologist.
How does blue light affect the eyes?
“Blue light is of the wavelength 480nm-580nm. It is present in natural sunlight but what we are more concerned about is the targeted light that comes off electronic devices like computer screens, LED television and mobile phones,” says Dr Manjula Jayakumar, senior paediatric ophthalmologist, Dr Agarwal’s Eye Hospital, Chennai. “It causes major photosensitivity,” she says. “That kind of light also puts strain on the retina and is toxic, particularly to the growing retina,” says Dr Vasani. “When this continues, long exposure causes asthenopia, or fatigue of eye muscles,” he says.
While watching TV or looking at a computer screen cannot actually cause a child to require glasses, sitting too close to the source and watching it in the dark can increase chances. In a normal eye, the cornea and lens have a perfect shape so that it refracts light to form a shape focused image on the retina. In a myopic eye, the cornea or lens usually curves too much, causing a refractive error (and therefore blurry vision). While glasses or contact lenses can correct a child’s vision, research shows that having severe myopia can lead to including retinal detachment, glaucoma and macular degeneration later in life.
It’s not just eye health. Screen exposure can be a major cause of migraines too. “ The pathway for migraine starts at the IPGC cells or the intrinsic photosensitivity ganglion cells of the retina. IPGC cells get stimulated by the blue light triggering of the thalamic trigeminal pathway resulting in headache. So blue light can be the inciting factor for headaches,” says Dr Jayakumar. Many of these risks are associated with circadian rhythm disruption too. Sleep disruption due to staring at digital screens can make it harder to fall—and stay asleep.
How to improve children’s eye health while using screens
“Use larger screens and consider projection on TV for older kid’s classes,” says Dr Sainani. “Recommend that your child takes a break of a few minutes after every 20 minutes. During the window, avoid looking at the screen and look across the room or outside to improve muscle health,” he says. More tricks? Blink consciously to avoid dryness, keep the computer slightly below eye level and maintain adequate light in the room. To prevent dry eye, using eye drops is a good call. Dry eye can be a chronic condition, but it worsened when one is staring at the screen without blinking (which lubricates the eyes). Remembering to blink and using moisturising eye drops that mimic tears can help.
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