Over the past two months, our children have missed their playtime, studies have gone online, sleep cycles topsy-turvy — a combination ophthalmologists say increases the odds of myopia (near-sightedness). COVID-19 has compelled us to ‘embrace’ technology like never before, whether for work or socialising, to keep us from feeling isolated.
May 13 to 19 was globally launched as Myopia Awareness Week last year after the World Council of Optometry and the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness predicted that by 2050 half the world’s population will be myopic. “But in 2020, the tables are turned with online learning and working from home becoming the new normal to stay safe from coronavirus,” says Dr R Venkatesh, Chief Medical Officer, Aravind Eye Hospital, Puducherry.
He worries for children: the ciliary muscle of the eyes develops upto the age of 15. “Now, with more screen usage and no outdoor activity, children’s eyes are only working to focus on near objects, and are at a higher risk of developing myopia,” he says.
Eye strain, dry or itchy eyes, head ache, blurred vision, physical and mental fatigue, are common problems today, even for those who never had them, says Dr Venkatesh, who saw complaints rise by 30% when practising telemedicine. It prompted him to prepare an ‘A to G’ list to avoid digital eye strain, because he feels those with mild symptoms of myopia may turn aggressively myopic and those free from it can develop the eye disorder during the pandemic-induced lockdown.
The ‘how to avoid digital strain’ tips have been converted into a two-and-a-half-minute video by three doctors in his hospital and can be viewed on YouTube.
Dr Ashwin Santosh Shetty, Consultant-Ophthalmology at Bengaluru’s Aster CMI Hospital, says multiple research studies show that 70% to 80% of prolonged screen users experience discomfort in the eye. He says adults shouldn’t exceed a usage of more than eight hours for all screens put together; for children, this shouldn’t exceed two hours. “Digital devices are harmful because the blue light emitted from them flickers most and creates glare. Overall eye health care with ‘break and blink’ can best help reduce the risk of eye problems,” he says. “Your eyes work the entire day and need to be rested well.”
Here’s what you can do for your eye health:
Follow the T-20 rule: Take regular breaks while using screens. Every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Blink: Digital users constantly stare at the screen and forget to blink. This causes dryness in the eye. Blinking 15 times every minute is recommended for optimal eye health.
Correct eyegonomics: View your smartphone at an angle below the eyebrows. Hold the device at a comfortable distance with larger font and brighter screen. Never use it in a dark room. Computer users should maintain a distance of 28 inches from the monitor with eye level 4 to 5 inches above the centre of the screen. Change the ambient and overhead light brightness to match the light of your device. There should not be any light reflecting on the screen or monitor. Anti-reflective screens can help to some extent.
Use carefully: Use only one device at a time. Forego all devices at least two hours before you go to sleep to maintain good eye health.
Exercise: Hold a pencil at arm’s length, and while staring at it, bring it to the tip of the nose and keep looking at it till it blurs out. Repeat three times to strengthen extra-ocular muscles.
Yoga for the eyes
Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Ashram-trained acharya Sanditha Narayan says simple yoga techniques for the eyes help alleviate disorders such as short- and long-sightedness. She offers two simple exercises:
Trataka (candle gazing meditation)
Sit three feet away from a candle at eye level and keep staring at the flame, for however long you can, without blinking. Keep repeating until your eyes start watering and you can’t keep them open. Close your eyes and imagine the visual of the flame and focus to bring the image to the centre of the forehead.
Look up, down and sideways
Sit in a cross-legged position on the floor or sit in a chair. Keep your head still and with eyes open look from side to side, then up and down and then diagonally, 10 times each.