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A short-sighted lifestyle

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A myopia epidemic is already a reality in India, much like in Southeast Asian countries, due to rigorous academic pursuits

The other day, I had a boy of five years of age accompanied by his anxiety-driven parents and grandparents in my clinic.

“Doctor, my boy does not see properly. There are a lot of mistakes in his school work,” the worried mother said. “I don’t think it has got to do with his sight; he picks up even the tiniest of insects,” the father said. “Such a small boy cannot have any eye issues,” his grandparents added.

After they stopped their conversation, I started my routine evaluation and found that the child could not read more than a couple of lines in the vision drum. This was followed by the routine dilation for a more thorough and detailed evaluation to arrive at a diagnosis. At the end of it, I straightened up my face to tell them that he just needed a pair of good glasses to see better. I expected them to be happy as I offered them the simplest solution. To my dismay, the mother broke down inconsolably and father shook his head vociferously saying, “It cannot be doctor, we wore glasses only at 10 years of age,” The grandparents started to blame it on the fast food culture of today.

“Can something be done doctor to prevent him from using glasses,” the mother asked. I explained patiently that the eyeball was longer than it should be for his age. I drew the analogy of how difficult it is to make a tall person shorter once grown. “Nothing much can be done to get rid of the existing refractive error, but we can definitely halt the progression to a great extent,” I said.

“Your child has definitely inherited genes from both of you and hence he has a tendency to become short-sighted but we can modify his progression by accepting a healthier lifestyle,” I continued. For the first time I found them more interested in the conversation. Can we give him good food, they asked. Well a healthy diet is definitely welcome but that alone does not determine the progression. “Can you tell me his daily routine,” I asked.

“Well doctor, he spends eight hours at school. Once he is back, after refreshments, he is off for his tuitions which last couple of hours. On returning home, he watches television and enjoys some games on my mobile phone before finishing any pending homework at bedtime,” the mother replied. “Does he not play at all,” I asked. There was a blank expression on all their faces.

“Your child’s power progression has got to do a lot with his physical activities. He needs to indulge in at least two hours of play in a day. Outdoor activity in good sunshine definitely promotes certain chemicals in the eye that inhibit eyeball growth. If you can promote a healthier lifestyle confined to more of outdoors and less of indoors, everything will fall in place,” I concluded. They left the room more convinced than what I started out with.

Myopia boom is already a reality in India. A decade ago, it was noted in Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan largely due to their rigorous academic pursuits. Now India is found to be fast catching up with these countries. Unless a conscientious effort begins at home right now, there is going to be a big epidemic at hand!

manju_in_00@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 5:16:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/a-short-sighted-lifestyle/article30306410.ece

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