Hyderabad: Doctors are warning parents of the dangers of increased screen-time on their children’s eyes due to online classes. Children are, according to them, at risk of myopia (near-sightedness), dryness of the eyes and disrupted sleep patterns. Damage to the ocular surface due to dryness, one expert said, could even make patients more susceptible to contracting COVID-19.
Dr Deepti Mehta, ophthalmologist and retina specialist at CARE Hospital, Hi-Tec City said increased screen time could lead to damage to the ocular surface. This could, in fact, lead to patients being more susceptible to contracting Covid-19. She explained that when children, or even adults, use computer screens, they blink less than usual. “When a person blinks, tears are liberated through tiny pores which lubricate the eye. When the blink-rate is low, there is more friction on the ocular surface, leading to damage. It presents itself in the form of red eyes, allergies and so on,” she said.
Dr Mehta said conjunctivitis is a common presentation among Covid-19 patients, indicating that people with dryness issues in their eyes are at risk of contracting the infection. “The patient can become vulnerable to catching an infection when his ocular defence mechanisms are down. There is a real likelihood of them contracting conjunctivitis through ocular secretions,” she explained.
Experts advise parents to exercise caution by limiting screen time for children and incorporate regular breaks during class work. Dr Ramesh Kekunnaya, head of the Child Sight Institute at L V Prasad Eye Institute said children who aren’t getting enough sunlight or change of scenery were at high risk of developing myopia or progression of myopia (worsening of nearsightedness). “Increased screen time will also lead to disruptions in their sleep patterns,” he added.
Dr Kekunnaya suggests an age-bracket approach to limiting screen time for children. “It is important that the number of teaching hours be reduced greatly. If a child used to have eight hours of lessons at school, the number of online hours cannot be of the same length,” he said.
Children below three years should not have any online classes; children between four and six could have 90 minutes of teaching, with one break in between and children between seven and 12 could have up to four hours of lessons with two or three breaks. Lastly, children up to the age of 16 could have up to eight hours of lessons, if required, but with several breaks and a long lunch break, Dr Kekunnaya said.
“At least one of the online sessions should be a physical activity — yoga, dance etc. Additionally, we suggest children are taught the 20-20-20 rule. They should take a 20 second-long break after every 20 minutes of screen time, and look at something located 20 feet away,” he said.
Dr Mehta added that children could be administered tear drops at the end of the day during the lockdown to facilitate moisture on the eye surface. “Meanwhile, children should be taught to take breaks and remember to blink in between. The screen itself should be located preferably at a one-hand’s distance from the eyes, and lower than the eye level to reduce risk of damage,” she said.