The Android generation, as kids of the new millennium are at times referred to, does spend more hours on computers, laptops, smart-phones and gaming consoles, apart from of course staying glued to their favourite programmes on television during leisure time.
Now, the pandemic-induced closure of schools has literally forced the introduction of the concept of virtual or online classes to keep the learning process going - for three-four hours every day and six days a week. This situation has invariably led to enhanced exposure of these young eyes to computer and mobile phone screens.
Concerns about their kids' long-term optic health, given the strain on their eyes due to over exposure to digital screens beyond academic hours, have been raised by parents time and again.
"Online education is perhaps the only option for maintaining continuity in the learning process during a lockdown-like situation. But as a working parent, it is extremely difficult to regulate the use of these gadgets by my daughter. As such, there are times when she could be spending more time in front of the mobile screen beyond academic hours," says a concerned parent.
"Moreover, due to isolation and lack of outdoor activities, they indulge in watching movies, videos or playing games on mobile phones, and unknowingly get addicted. Even after knowing the adverse effects, we are at times compelled to let them engage in such activities during leisure hours," she says.
City-based eye specialist Dipak Bhuyan says that long stretches of screen time reduces the (eye) blinking rate to five to six times per minute as against a normal blinking rate of 15 to 16 times per minute.
"Now with children spending more time in front of digital screens due to online classes, the tear film of their eyes get evaporated faster as they remain wide open with a reduced blinking rate while concentrating on the screens…The tear film is a chemical solution which is meant for the ideal health of the eye surface…so the moment the water level decreases, the chemical property of the fluid gets altered, resulting in dry eyes, irritation, eye fatigue and even headaches," Dr Bhuyan says.
"Previously, dryness in eyes was a typical problem among elderly people, with thyroid and arthritis issues. Now, young adults, particularly professionals, are increasingly complaining of dry eye problems owing to longer screen time at work…However, during the pandemic, we have noticed such dry eye problems among children, given their prolonged exposure to digital screens during online classes and beyond," the ophthalmologist informs.
"Then again, dryness in eyes can affect the eye surface and reduce the bacteria destroying capacity making the young eyes susceptible to infections such as conjunctivitis," he says.
Moreover, allergy sources such as dust and pollen can also lead to eye redness, watery eyes, itching, etc among kids.
"Outdoor activities lead to healthier vision. On the contrary, staying indoors and spending longer screen time might enhance the chance of developing nearsightedness or myopia and affect distance vision," Dr Bhuyan observes."Another observation here is that longer home confinement has resulted in reduced distance vision among kids who might not be aware of the situation and hence not complain about any issues. However, this could, at times unknowingly, cause eye power issues," Dr Bhuyan adds.
The pandemic situation has also resulted in children (with eye issues and who wear spectacles) missing their periodic check-ups.
"The power enhancement in the absence of routine check-up and remedy, results in eye strain. Normally children with eye problems, who are under 18 years, are advised to undergo half-yearly check-ups," he says.
But routine check-ups have now become a thing of the past, with parents keeping their wards (under 18 years) mostly at home, with a third wave of the coronavirus looming.
"My daughter has been wearing spectacles since a random check-up in school brought to the fore an issue with her eyes. But over the past year and a half, I have not taken her for a routine check-up because of the situation," says a concerned parent.
"She is 13 years of age now and will have to wear high-power glasses till a corrective operation when she is 18. However, longer screen time owing to the online mode of teaching does cause irritation in her eyes at times. So I have made sure that she uses a bigger screen, particularly during online classes," she adds.
Studies have shown that if children spend more time playing outside, it just might result in healthier vision development in children.
"Outdoor activities lead to healthier vision. On the contrary, staying indoors and spending longer screen time might enhance the chance of developing nearsightedness or myopia, which can temporarily cause spasms and affect distance vision," Dr Bhuyan observes.
"Therefore, in order to keep the young eyes healthy, children should not be allowed by parents to indulge in screen time beyond online class hours, particularly in this pandemic situation. If they use a bigger desktop screen for online classes, it is still better than a smaller mobile phone screen," he suggests.