Ophthalmologists have reported a sharp rise in myopia in children in the past year. Some doctors report as much as 25% rise in onset and 100% progression in children with myopia.
Myopia is a condition where objects at a distance are not clearly visible and a person must wear corrective spectacles.
Manjula Jayakumar, senior consultant paediatric ophthalmologist at Dr. Agarwal’s Eye Hospital, says, “We have seen 25% in onset and 100% in progression of myopia during the pandemic. Myopia can lead to complications during adolescence or adulthood like early onset of cataract, retinal detachment, glaucoma, myopic maculopathy, and myopic strabismus fixus,” she says.
She attributes the progression and early onset of myopia to an overdose of exposure to mobile phones, lack of physical activity and sunlight.
Dr. Manjula says she has been seeing more children with acute onset of esotropia (cross eye) as well. “Usually, we see two or three in a year but now we see at least 10 children. There is a five-fold increase,” she says.
Sankara Nethrayala has also seen a sharp increase. T.S. Surendran, director of paediatric ophthalmology, says he has seen “a big jump in their numbers”. He attributes it to “watching too much of screen monitors”.
Mohan Rajan, medical director of Rajan Eye Care Hospital, recalled that in 2015, the prevalence of myopia was 15% but now one in four children is affected. He attributes it to online classes, and calls for reopening of schools.
“An average child spends around 8 to 10 hours on a laptop or desktop. In most of our patients, the power of glasses has gone up by 25% to 50%,” he said. An alarming increase in myopia in Singapore had led ophthalmologists there to administer eye drops to slow its progression, he says.
Eye safety month
With August being observed as Eye Safety Month for Children, Dr. Manjula calls for immediate attention to their well-being. She suggests limiting the time with devices and a balanced diet. “We need a lot of changes, such as restriction on watching devices,” she says.
Meanwhile, doctors suggest a diet that includes carrots, greens, fish and eggs. They must be taught to do yoga and listen to music. Children must be allowed to play so that they can absorb sunlight. Also, if possible, children should be encouraged to use larger gadgets such as the desktop or the TV instead of the mobile phone.