Bengaluru: Increased screen time during COVID-19 pandemic has led to an alarming rise in squint eye cases and myopia (nearsightedness) progression among children. There has been five times year-on-year increase in the number of acute onset comitant esotropia in the last two years of the pandemic.
The onset and progression of myopia and squint eyes among school children has seen a two-fold increase, said data from Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospital. Dr. Rakesh Seenappa, Consultant Ophthalmologist of the hospital in Bengaluru, has said that they have seen almost doubling of cases of myopia among children of 8-16 years of age when compared to pre-pandemic times.
There is also a significant rise in squint eye cases due to excessive use of digital screens for near-work activities like online classes, watching videos or playing video games on small screens. Long-term use of digital screens can cause dryness of eyes, nearsightedness, squint and allergies. It promotes faster tear evaporation which leads to dryness in eyes, making patients rub them constantly. This causes changes in the corneal curvature and in a few months an increase in glass power, he explained.
High myopia at early age
Dryness can also trigger eye allergies, which makes children rub their eyes even more. This is a downward spiral that leads to a myopic shift in the eyes as the child grows, leading to high myopia at an early age, he added.
“Over the last one year, we have seen a lot of school children and college teens coming to us with complaints of burning sensation in the eyes, blurring of vision and sometimes double vision and headaches. We have also found a few patients as young as six years suffering from myopia. This is mainly due to online classes. Children who are in front of a bright screen for more than four hours per day are most at risk of myopia and squint eye, especially those who don’t take frequent breaks. Risk factors are increased duration of screen time, playing video games on small screens and parents having myopia,” Dr. Rakesh noted.
Myopia as a condition, though not reversible, is curable with prescription glasses. Squint is curable with glasses as well as through surgery. Sometimes it can be reversed through appropriate exercises and prescription glasses.
To prevent the onset of eye conditions among children, one needs to limit their screen exposure time, encourage them to do more outdoor activities, take them for regular screening and discourage them from rubbing eyes frequently.
Near-work refers to activities such as reading and writing with the distance between the object of focus (books, for instance) and eyes being less than 33 centimetres. Near-work involves computers, laptops, mobile phones and tablets, taken up without frequent breaks and increased screen time for academic or other purposes.
This visual stress could lead to squinting and has an accelerating effect on myopia progression. Myopia is an emerging public health problem in both urban and rural school-going children in India, requiring urgent efforts.