As online classes and WFH become a part of the new normal, increased screen time takes a toll on eyes

It has been more than six months since 28-year-old Sonali Singh*, a social media manager with a marketing firm, has been working from home. Sonali says that she is hooked on to social media throughout the day, for her work, and this constant use of screen has led to severe eye problems.“Thanks to the eye irritation and redness, it feels like I am crying all day and for a change, my boss is not to be blamed for it! The increased screen time, with almost no breaks, is the reason for my growing eye troubles. I have been using eye drops, but I will be visiting an ophthalmologist soon. I am afraid that I will have to wear glasses now for the first time in my life,” she says.Sonali is not the only one who is going through this problem. Ophthalmologists tell us that they have seen a considerable increase in cases, since the lockdown, where people have developed eye problems because of increased screen time. And this includes not just professionals, but also children and teenagers, who have been forced to attend classes online with schools and colleges remaining shut amid the pandemic.Growing cases of Computer Vision Syndrome An increased use of computers leads to a series of symptoms like blurred vision, redness of eyes, itching and dry eyes, among others. This cluster of symptoms is known as computer vision syndrome.What causes it:“Continuous exposure to gadgets, binge eating while watching TV, poor lighting, poor posture while using gadgets, wrong angle while looking at the screen, not blinking adequately, uncorrected vision problems, not taking frequent breaks, and screen glare can cause Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS),” says Dr Kartikeya Sangal, Ophthalmologist, Apollo Spectra, Delhi.What are the symptoms:Dr Sangal adds, “The symptoms of CVS are blurred vision, dry eyes, redness, itching, eye fatigue, headaches, watery eyes and inability to open the eyes. Normally, a patient blinks around 20 times in a minute. But, when one is working on a computer or a laptop, they hardly blink. This happens as the film of tears over the cornea dries up.”Increased screen time for kids: anti-glare glasses, eye drops to the rescueWith schools shut and limited or no outdoor activities, from studies to extra-curricular activities, children have been glued to their screens for almost everything this past seven months. Many parents have been complaining about increased screen time in children, which have been causing severe eye problems.Sunila Sahai*, mother of a 10-year-old, who lives in DLF Phase 5, Gurgaon, tells us, “My daughter’s screen time is 10 hours now. This includes her online school classes, Kathak and piano classes, and then a bit of entertainment in the form of her favourite shows. I got her eyes tested recently and realised she has minus three power! The doctor suggested she uses anti-glare glasses with power. While heredity is a reason, the doctor also agreed that increased screen time has aggravated the problem.”Lubna Naaz, mother of a five-and-a-half-year-old, who lives in Sector 65, Gurgaon, shares, “My son’s screen time is about six-seven hours and on some days, it’s more than that. He has his classes from 8.15-12.15 in the morning, and right after that, he watches TV. He also attends art and Arabic classes online. It is a very sad state of affairs because we have been giving him eye drops for redness, watery eyes and strain. Now, he himself asks us to give him eyedrops when he feels any discomfort in his eyes.”As Dr Aarti Nangia, HOD, Eye Department, Fortis Escorts, Delhi, shares, she has been getting calls, in hordes, from parents, since the lockdown, complaining about their children’s red and watery eyes.Cannot reduce screen time, so changing glasses: ProfessionalsAeshna Nigam, an assistant professor at Delhi University, points out that she has been taking online classes for almost two semesters now. “It takes about four-six hours to prepare for a class, and we have several classes to take daily. So my screen time is not less than 12 hours a day. Then there are meetings to attend, other college work to do and all these have to be done virtually. I can’t cut down on my screen time, so I have changed my regular power glasses to blue light blocking glasses. I have been having pain and experiencing blurry vision while staring at the screen, so I had to change my glasses,” she shares.Tilak Chowdhury, a resident of Sector 169, Noida, who works with an engineering company, shares that his screen time now is 16 hours. “I work on my laptop, watch movies on the same screen and also read on virtual platforms! So, my screen time has gone up to 16-18 hours. I have been told by my doctor to cut down on my screen time because I have been getting headaches and pain in my eyeballs because of this. I am planning to order zero power glasses online to protect my eyes from the blue light,” he says.— With inputs from Divya Kaushik and Niharika Lal(*Names changed on request)

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