Headache, back pain, sleep deprivation: Prolonged screen use during Coronavirus lockdown can have detrimental effects

Long term issues that could crop up with increased screen time is obesity, heart disease, sleep disorders, behavioural and educational issues.

Currently, we are all stuck in our home because of a lockdown that seems to have no end in sight and the easiest thing to do is sit in front of a screen. Whether it is for work, entertainment or relaxation or even to pass the unending hours of sitting at home.

And, since COVID-19 doesn't seem to be going anywhere, anytime soon (with no cure or vaccine being found) we are also most likely to be stuck at home for an extended period and will have to learn to make the most of life at home. We also need to keep in mind some of the guidelines to ensure we do not get infected - Wash your hands regularly, do not touch your eyes or mouth, cough or sneeze into the crook of your arm and wear a mask when going outside.

Working from home or having classes online means increased screen time for adults and kids alike.

Working from home or having classes online means increased screen time for adults and kids alike.

With all the stay-at-home time, it is only normal that our use of screen time is enhanced along with online activities. But one needs to understand the detrimental effects this can have on our eyes and prevent it from disrupting our lives further.

Parents are working from home and students are attending their classes online, their use of screens differs as well. As children have restricted outdoor activity these days, they spend most of their time on tablets, mobiles, computers and television, not realising that they start getting symptomatic in few hours as well as adopting a poor posture when seated in front of a screen.

Children will mostly complain of:

  • Eye strain, headache, pain in and around the eye, frequent rubbing of the eyes, watering and redness
  • Neck, shoulder and back pain
  • Tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive use injuries
  • Other long term issues that could crop up — obesity, heart disease, sleep disorders, behavioural issues, educational problems and social media related issues like depression and even violence

Adults have similar and enhanced issues:

  • Physical strain to the eyes leading to drying and enhanced myopia occasionally and sensitivity to light can trigger migraine attacks
  • Body symptoms like stiffness, pain in the neck and shoulder
  • Sleep deprivation and disturbances
  • Increased risk of obesity
  • Enhanced risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease
  • Loss of cognitive ability and communication, from atrophy in the grey matter and compromised white matter leading to these effects over long term
  • Impairments in social skills and weakened emotional judgement along with lower self-esteem
  • Exposure excessively to blue light is possibly the cause of these visual complaints.

In times like the current pandemic, it is important to realise the detrimental effects of enhanced screen time following the use of digital devices. It is imperative to take steps to mitigate this with simple techniques, rather than overloading our healthcare systems with unnecessary visits to the hospitals or clinics.

Curtail the excessive use of digital devices is one of the most useful remedies, for all concerned.

If you want your kids to decrease their screen time, it is important that they see their parents doing the same.

If you want your kids to decrease their screen time, it is important that they see their parents doing the same.

Parents, children learn through example.

If you want to limit the time your children uses their devices, you need to do the same. Set an example to them by not being on your digital devices while you are with them. Spend time with your children instead and as positive interaction is the best way to manage this problem.

Encourage your children to develop hobbies and indulge in activities they might not have got the time for during school days. Encourage them to take up music, painting, reading, and instead of playing video games, teach them to play board games and other indoor games since going outdoors is not possible. Post lockdown, parents must encourage outdoor activities. Adults should limit their screen time by increasing the time spent with their families and encouraging social interaction.

Limit the use of mobile and tablets and long television binge viewing to avoid these medical issues from developing. Avoid snacking unnecessarily while viewing television.

In case, symptoms of dry eyes do develop simple lubricant eye drops of methylcellulose 0.5 percent which can be instilled every 4-6 hours or as required. There are many brands available in all pharmacies. In case the problems persist, then one can consider a visit to the ophthalmologist.

These difficult times are likely to ease over a few months, but enhanced screen activity has become the new normal. It is important to adjust one’s lifestyle to safeguard eye and body health.

The author is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Jaslok Hospital, Mumbai.

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