By Chong Wee Hou, Optometrist, International Eye Cataract Retina Centre, Singapore

Digital gadgets are now ubiquitous. In fact, Singapore has one of the highest proportion of smartphone users among countries in the world. It is now common to have children exposed to digital gadgets very early in life as some parents often give their children devices such as smartphones and tablets to keep them occupied.

Children are easily attracted to engaging content on these devices and may either overuse or inappropriately use them. They often hold the gadgets too close to their eyes and may not be aware of lighting conditions, whether good or poor, around them. Oftentimes, they use these gadgets for prolonged durations and consequently spend lesser time on outdoor activities.

In a recent Mediacorp television episode on Vasantham that was aired on 2 August 2018, Dr Ajeet Madhav Wagle, Medical Director and Senior Consultant Ophthalmologist at International Eye Cataract Retina Centre, shared his expert opinion and gave advice on visual health issues associated with inappropriate and excessive use of digital gadgets among children. Vasantham is a Singapore Tamil language entertainment free-to-view commercial broadcast television network that is owned by Mediacorp, a subsidiary of the government of Singapore’s Temasek Holdings.

Inappropriate use of portable digital gadgets not only has harmful effects on visual health but also can affect a child’s sleep patterns and psychosocial development. Excessive use of digital screens can cause eye symptoms such as tearing, red eye, tiredness and intermittent blurry vision. Short-sightedness or myopia in children often progresses more rapidly due to intense near focussing associated with excessive use of digital gadgets. Along with more severe myopia comes the increased risk of other serious eye conditions such as macular degeneration, retinal tear, retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataract later in life.

Healthy visual habits are encouraged to reduce the impact of the digital revolution among children. Keeping a safe reading distance of at least 30-40cm from the eyes, ensuring a uniform and bright lighting while using the gadgets, taking frequent short breaks every 20-30 minutes, spending more  time on outdoor activities and avoiding excessive use of gadgets just before going to bed are some useful habits that Dr Ajeet shared on the television programme.

We cannot escape the fact that digital gadgets are here to stay, but we surely can make conscious decisions to use them more appropriately to reduce their impact on our children’s visual health.