Keeping an eye on “Eye health” amidst the pandemic

Noornika Khuraijam
The year 2020 has been a year of unprecedented happenings. From an assassination that shook the Middle East heralding the New Year, to plane crashes, to wildfires, to devastating floods, to locusts swarms, to mortifying bomb blasts to controversial Bollywood deaths, to finally the Covid -19 pandemic. It has been one hectic roller coaster! In the midst of it all, we have been glued to our digital screens with bated breaths completely mesmerised and alarmed as reality starts resembling a fast paced Hollywood movie.
With our smart appliances getting “smarter”, and the world getting more connected, informations are available to us faster than the speed of light. The result of it all is that we have become completely dependent on our gadgets. Furthermore with social isolation becoming the need of the hour; laptops, tablets, and mobile phones have become an indispensable part of our lives. Classrooms, offices, banks, even a trip to our local grocery store has now become virtual. The effects of lockdown mean that children are shut down in their homes and hence are increasingly turning to mobile/online games as a source of connection and entertainment. The strain of these constant exposures to digital screens is borne by our eyes. They can lead to tired eyes, dry gritty eyes, headaches, neck pain and fatigue. In ophthalmic terminology it is called the computer vision syndrome (CVS) or Digital eye strain.
Our eyes are naturally accustomed to focus on distant objects. Our ancestors were foragers and hunters. Evolution dictated that we keep our vision sharpest on far off objects for our survival. Hence nature blessed us in such a way that our eyes remain in a relaxed position when we focus on distant objects. But fast forward 12-13 millennia and we find that we are now constantly  glued and dependent on smart appliances that dictate, remind us of birthdays, keep us connected to our friends and families, do our shopping, even take our classes. This continuous effort to focus on a nearby digital screen eventually gives way to CVS. The situation has become so grave that by the year 2050 it is estimated that half the population of the world will be myopic or short sighted meaning they will require glasses for distant vision as a result of continuous strain on the eyes. There is speculation that now, because of the pandemic, it may be accelerated and might happen sooner. In fact the term “quarantine myopia” is finding its place in the eye care world. But in spite of it all, we can still take certain precautionary measures to halt/diminish CVS.
Remember to blink - Blinking is necessary to spread the tear film and moisten our eyes. Constant focus on a screen reduces our blink rate leading to dry eyes. We can consciously remember to blink while using our digital screens. Remind children to do the same.
Take a break - Remember the 20-20-20 rule (as a memorandum to the year 2020). Every 20 minutes take a break for 20 seconds and focus on something 20 feet away, to relax the eye. Timers can be set on our devices to remind us of the same. Use appropriate glasses- Age specific reading glasses should be worn, by those above the age of 40. Blue light blocking glasses should be worn for those who need to use the screen for prolonged periods. Children who have been prescribed glasses should wear them while working.
Adjust your screen - keep your computer screen at the level of your eyes. Keep the screens, or hold devices 18-24 inches away or at arm’s length. Position light sources behind your back not behind the screen to reduce glare. Adjust brightness and contrast so that it feels comfortable. Increase font size to a comfortable level for prolonged reading. Avoid using devices in brightly lit areas to decrease discomfort.
Exercise in between - Remember to get up and walk around. Stretch your legs and relax your back and neck. Natural light exposure in children is a known factor for reducing progression of myopia.
Switch off 30 mins before bedtime - The blue light emitted from screens can disrupt your sleep. So remember to put away devices at least half an hour before sleeping.
Get a comprehensive eye test - If you still continue to experience headaches and blurry tired eyes, get a comprehensive eye check up. Your doctor can prescribe you a lubricating eye drop to diminish dry eyes. In all, the rate at which myopia is progressing in children and digital eye strain is affecting us all can be quite alarming. Perhaps one of the hard prices we need to pay for technological advancement, specially during the time of Covid 19 pandemic. Responsible usage of digital devices, and limitation of screen time in children is the need of the hour. Something which the schools, parents and administration can all work together towards.
The writer is Consultant Ophthalmologist, Shija Eye Care Foundation [email protected]