How To Protect Your Child’s Eyes With The Increase In Screen Time

With the lockdown and online classes, gadget time has increased manifold – whether it be a computer, TV, phone or the iPad. All this affects the eyes. Dr Urmi Shah tells us what we can do to arrest the situation before it becomes a problem.

We are all faced with a situation never seen before, confined indoors and resorting to gadgets more than ever – to continue our children's’ education, to work from home, and as a source of entertainment.

In these times, everyone is concerned about this increase in screen time, and how it will affect our eyes. In children, spending increased time in front of a screen has been linked to the development of myopia (nearsightedness) that would require spectacles for correction, and hence every effort should be made to restrict the gadget use to only as much is necessary.

It is important to try and find alternatives to excessive gadget usage for younger kids. Once they are done with their online school work, try to engage them in other methods of play that do not involve looking at a screen. If they have to watch something, try to choose a screen that is bigger and placed farther away. A TV is preferable to an iPad, which in turn is better than a phone. 

 The recommendations for screen time in children state –

  • For kids from 0-24 months: no screen time other than video calls
  • From 2-4 years: 1 hour a day
  • For 4-6 years, 2 hours a day

Of course, in the time of lockdown, it is very difficult to adhere to these guidelines, hence let us look at what difficulties can arise if the kids spend too much time at a screen, and what can be done about it. 

  • From a pure eye point of view, (not taking into account the effect of content being watched), we tend to blink less often while we are looking at a screen. Reduced blink rate leads to greater evaporation of tears, and increased dryness in the eyes. Also, by looking constantly at a screen we are doing continuous near work, which can lead to the development of eye strain.  
  • Dryness of the eyes can manifest as heaviness felt in the eyes, itching, scratchiness, eyes feeling constantly tired, and at times even a reflex increase in watering from eyes. In children at times, the only symptom might be that they are rubbing their eyes more often. In more severe forms the eyes can get red and sensitive to light. 
  • Eye strain can show up as eye pain, headaches, and sometimes even a temporary change in your eye power. 

So what can be done to reduce all of these symptoms? 

  1. Follow the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take a break from your screen for 20 seconds, and focus on something 20 feet away. This could be as simple as looking away from your screen to look at a wall, or out of the window. This puts a break in the constant near work required to be done by the eyes. 
  2. Blink More Often – Make a conscious effort to blink more often, this will ensure a good spread of tears and keep the eyes well lubricated. 
  3. Lubricant eye drops can be used to treat the dryness. A number of different drops are available in the market and should be used 4-6 times in a day to have the best effect. These drops are absolutely safe, and a lot of them are preservative-free, having no side effects and can be used in young children as well. If the dryness is severe, the drops can be supplemented with an ointment to be used at night. You can contact your eye doctor if you need a prescription for any lubricating eye drops. 
  4. Proper Lighting –  Ensure you aren’t watching/looking at devices in the dark and there is proper lighting in the room. 
  5. Try to get some sunlight in the day – only if possible depending on building and society guidelines
  6. Ensure a healthy diet with fruits, green leafy vegetables, and a lot of water. 
  7. Try to ensure your children don’t rub their eyes too much. If the dryness is bothering them it would be a good idea to start lubricating eye drops. Once they get into the habit of rubbing the eyes, it can introduce infection into the eyes and can even lead to conjunctivitis. 
  8. And lastly, as mentioned above, try to find other methods to keep your kids occupied. This is an excellent time and opportunity to develop a new skill, learn a new talent and increase family bonding by playing board games! 

Stay indoors, stay safe. Take care of your eyes and of your child's', as we might have some more time to spend like this, connecting and learning digitally! 

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