Does screen-time affect your little gamer’s vision?
An eye expert talks about a condition called ‘dry eyes’
Is your child spending too much face time in front of the computer or gadget screen? Then you might want to look for symptoms of dry eyes. Whereas decades ago, this seemed to be a senior citizen problem, brought about by the natural aging process, pediatric ophthalmologist Dr. Pik Sha Chan-Uy of the Pacific Eye and Laser Institute at Jupiter Street in Makati says that she is seeing more of her younger patients with this condition. “Now, I see kids with dry eyes, a result of staring for long periods of time at gadgets and computers. This was rarely seen before.”
To check if kids’ eyes are affected by game play and uber social networking, she advises checking out kids’ peepers. “The common symptom of dry eyes is irritation. Although they don’t express it as irritation, parents will often notice that their children keep on rubbing their eyes, which become red, and these kids blink a lot more than usual.”
She adds that there is a growing number of children – and adults -- with eye problems, and chalks it down to today’s lifestyle. “Nutrition-wise, especially the fast-food we eat nowadays, there is lack of nutrients and this can affect the eyes.”
Habits to check
The eye doctor says that children may not be able to tell their parents right off the bat that they are having vision problems. They often think that the way they see things is the norm. She shares signs that parents should look for, which would require a visit to the clinic.
1. Frequent blinking
2. Watching TV with the head turned to the side.
“This is another indication that there is a problem. They do this if they have astigmatism, and they are trying to find the correct position where they can see better. If they do not keep their head straight while watching TV, there might be a misalignment of eye, and there might be doubling or shadowing.”
3. Staying too close to the TV
This is another indication of vision problems. “I also had one patient, wherein the mother says she noticed that her three-year-old is not interested in watching TV. This is very uncommon in a child that age. When she brought the child in for a regular check-up, it was then when we established that her child had problems with visual acuity. Mataas na pala ang grado niya, and he was not seeing clearly. Kaya pala hindi interested manood ng TV.” Sometimes, she says, the teachers are the ones who inform the parents that something is wrong, especially when they remark that the child moves nearer to the blackboard when copying something.
4. Falling often or bumping into things.
Correcting the condition
Chan-Uy advises an eye check-up at the age of three. “Other people will advise putting it off until the child can read or talk, but doctors can already check for eye problems even in babies. It is not just a matter of having the child read letters off the chart. We have tests for them. Even if they don’t notice any abnormal behavior, it is still best to schedule a check-up.”
This is important because eye problems can start at birth. “In newborns, we have cases of congenital cataracts. We have to remove or correct that as soon as possible. It can be caused by family history, or the mom may have developed an infection, such as rubella or German measles while she was pregnant. Lazy eye or Amblyopia is one of the reasons why early detection of eye problems is important. This condition, wherein vision does not properly develop in one eye, can only be corrected until the child is seven or eight years old,” she cautions.
An accurate eye exam will help give kids a better view of the world, most likely through glasses. “Depending on the condition, treatment could range from requiring the child to wear glasses, or undergo surgery [for conditions such as strabismus or cross eyes]. For amblyopia, patching is also considered. Laser surgery or Lasik is rarely an option, because with kids, the grade is still developing or changing. We have to wait for the grade to be stable, at around 18 years old. Teenagers can use contacts, provided that they are responsible enough to clean them and avoid infections.”