Ophthalmologists in the UAE are urging parents to reduce their children’s screen time after seeing more young patients come to them with eye complaints during the pandemic.
In the past few months, more children visited doctors with headaches, eye strain, blinking and fatigue, caused by spending hours on digital devices.
In March, schools across the country closed down and remote learning was implemented, increasing screen time for children.
Dr Lilan Bhat, specialist ophthalmologist with Prime Hospital, said she had seen twice as many young patients this year compared with last year. The youngest was a two-year-old.
"Instead of 10 children in a fortnight, we are seeing 20 with eye issues," she told The National.
"Besides lack of social interaction and physical inactivity, longer hours spent on screens due to online classes, spending more time watching television and using gadgets and less outdoor activity are detrimental to eyesight.
"In the last couple of months, we have had parents coming in with children with a wide variety of symptoms. Sometimes the child is cranky and the parents are unable to figure out what is wrong."
Dr Bhat advised parents to reduce screen time. She said children under two should not be using digital devices at all.
For children aged two to nine, screen time should not exceed more than an hour a day and should be limited to four hours for children aged 10 and above.
"With the situation caused by the pandemic, parents need not fret too much that the number of hours have [increased], but at least they can make an attempt to reduce unnecessary usage of gadgets," Dr Bhat said.
She also suggested that pupils take regular breaks.
Dr Iyad Armoush, specialist ophthalmologist at Canadian Specialist Hospital in Dubai, said he had seen a 50 per cent increase in the number of child patients since March. He sees 75 children a month, the youngest one was five.
“There are many children who are spending a lot more time on iPads, mobile phones and on the computer since the pandemic started. So, we’ve been witnessing problems in younger ages, which was not as frequent before,” he said.
Dr Armoush said most of his patients complained of dry-eye syndrome.
He said digital device users should blink between 20 and 30 times per minute to avoid dryness in the eyes.
"When we focus on the screen, the frequency of blinking is less. This will make the tears evaporate more easily from the surface of the eye," Dr Armoush said.
He also recommended that children take regular intervals when using a device, and in some cases, use lubricants to keep their eyes moist.
Ophthalmologists in the UAE also suggest using antiglare screens and dimming the screen brightness to reduce eye fatigue.
Regular eyesight check-ups should be scheduled to see if a child needs prescription glasses and parents should try to maintain a regular sleep schedule for their children.