New Delhi: Eight-year-old Ritesh Walia peers through his spectacles at Hercules saving a lost princess, his latest video game. After five hours with Hercules, he switches to Angry Birds, and then to Pokemon.
Ritesh is not alone in his addiction to video games. With increasing access to computers, smart phones, 3D television, ipads and numerous other gadgets, childhood myopia (near-sightedness) has become a huge risk for urban children, say experts.
Optometrists say playing video games for long hours can cause problems such as headaches, blurry vision and discomfort in the eyes. Children up to 15 years old are susceptible.
"There has been a significant rise of youngsters with poor vision in the last two years. The number of patients has almost doubled, especially in the age group of four to 10," Tyag Murti Sharma, eye specialist, Medfort Hospitals, said.
"While digital eye strain is commonly regarded as an adult condition, children are suffering too. Several children spend over one-and-half hours at a stretch on SMS each day, it's no wonder they're straining their eyes. Squinting, rubbing of the eyes and complaints of back, neck or headache are all common among children addicted to gadgets," Anita Sethi, eye specialist, Nova Specialty Surgery, said.
Keeping children away from video games can be hard. If they cannot desist entirely, they should at least be taught the Harmon Distance rule. The distance between the eye and the screen should be at least as long as the length of the arm, from elbow to knuckles.
Doctors say that when children get involved in video games, they keep staring at the screen and blink only about six times each minute, causing dryness and redness in the eyes.
"The blink rate for an average individual is 20 times per minute. Usually children have red eyes or complain of headaches and photophobia -- which is sensitivity to light. Myopia could occur from playing with gadgets with small screens for long hours," said Ajay Sharma, chief medical director, Eye Q, eye care hospital.
Many schools have now started using digital boards instead of black boards, and the teacher uses digital resources like graphics, images and video clips to illustrate topics taught.
"The digital board should be of high definition and big enough," Sharma said, adding that in the past seven years, there has been a rise in the number of children who visit eye doctors.
Parents had better keep an eye on their kids, Sethi says. "If children are glued to the TV, computer or mobile phone, they should take a five-minute break for each hour of such usage," she says.
World Sight day is observed on the second Thursday in October.