Phone Blindness?

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Busy parents may find some solace by giving their kids to play with their phones but doctors say the smart-phone abuse by kids is limiting their capacity to see the world better unlike their parents, Farzana Nisar reports

A child engrossed in using a smart phone.

Unimpressed by the lullabies sung by his mother, Ayaan, 3, stares at the 4-inch digital screen in his little hands. Sometimes, he looks like a zombie. His day starts with navigating different entertaining apps on his mother’s smart-phone at breakfast and ends up repeating the same.

Paying no heed to his mother’s repeated calls, Ayaan’s tiny fingers swipe through videos to find his favourite cartoon character. Smoothening his watery eyes with one hand, his gaze dances between two objects on the small screen. Sometimes the bright light causes itchiness in his eyes and he contracts them for a while. When young Rohie attempts taking the phone away, Ayaan throws up tantrums.

“He does it a lot, and prefers a smartphone over food, sleep and everything,” Rohie said. “Sometimes this is the only thing that can keep him busy and quiet.” Ayyan has picked up the “art” of using the smartphone when he was slightly more than one. Now, he knows operating it and is spending hours playing games, and watching videos. He often rubs his eyes and complains of slight pain. Sometimes his eyes turn red. “I fear the symptoms might get worse with time,” Rohie said.

In this age, the complications that come up with the excessive use of smart-phones are widespread. Stunned by the sudden upsurge in eye problems in Kashmir, ophthalmologists note that an increasing number of children visit hospitals and clinics due to eye problems related because of the smartphones their parents own.

Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or the Digital Eye Strain (DVS) is the result of overexposure of eyes to screens. Some of the common symptoms of CVS are eye strain, blurred vision, dry eyes, headaches, neck and shoulder pain. Children spending more time on phones have more symptoms of the dry-eye disease.

“Nowadays children are introduced to technology when they are just babies and young eyes are at a greater risk of developing DVS more than adults, as they are not well developed,” said Prof Bashir Ahmad, Director Eye Care and Research Centre  Karan Nagar, Srinagar. “The problems that we are noticing more frequently are certain refractive errors like astigmatism where a child is able to see an object but not clearly. Squint can be a long-term symptom of excessive exposure to blue light, and such symptoms, if not checked on time, may lead to drastic effects.”

These days, ophthalmologists across the world are stressing the importance of regular eye check-ups for children. In Kashmir, they suggest that children must have their eyesight assessed before they go into kindergarten.

“Before starting school, every child should have a comprehensive eye exam done because sooner the vision problems are detected, the better it is”, Bashir added. He cautioned against the use of eye drops without consulting a specialist. Almost 10 to 12 children visit the clinic to get their eyes checked per day.

Admitted in Srinagar’s children hospital the only solace of this kid is the smartphone.

Even parents are panicky.

“Children nowadays remain confined to their phones or tablets thus straining their eyes as well as brains, they hardly get to breathe any fresh air”, Gulzar Ahmad, a parent said. “Earlier children used to play outdoor games but now they play games online and this change in the lifestyle of people has affected them both physically as well as mentally.”

Interestingly, some parents have induced the use of phones. If they have an urgent work, they slip their phone to their kids. “Smartphone is a great bribery tool. Giving a smartphone in hands of a child to pacify when he is throwing up a tantrum or when parents are busy, has become a custom these days,” said Noor-ul-Hassan, a teacher.

Dr Afroz is a Professor in GMC’s Ophthalmology department. “When a person spends long hours using smartphones, the normal blink rate of an eye decreases,” Dr Afroz said. “Due to excess exposure to blue light, the eyes become dry and it has been seen that people who deal a lot with digital screens complain more of such symptoms like dryness, blurred vision, fatigue, headache, and even neck and back pains.”

The doctor said that since the vision functions of a child are still evolving when they pick up the phone use, this puts them at a greater risk than adults for developing CVD.

“If they complain of slight itchiness or feel tired and are left unchecked, it can lead to long-term damage”, Afroz said.

Ophthalmologists say getting the eyes checked, limiting the amount of time or taking regular breaks, taking care of proper hygiene and using the smartphone in a well-illuminated room are some of the tips to reduce the risk of CVD in children.

Children, doctors say, often avoid complaining about the symptoms to their parents, thinking they may be barred from using their digital devices.

Zaid, 8, also complains that his eyes start to strain and his headaches after remaining glued to his tablet for hours. “I often rub my eyes as they hurt due to the bright light entering my eyes but I don’t tell about it to my parents,” Zaid admitted to this reporter. “They may stop me from playing games.

“Completely barring the child from using mobile devices may not be the best approach,”pediatrician Dr Rizwan said. “Instead one should consider setting limits for which he uses such devices. And parents are the first line of defence against any eye related issue if they notice something unusual don’t take it for granted.”

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