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Overmuch time staring at mobile phones putting children at risk

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Renowned eye surgeons are cautioning that children who spend too much time indoors looking at their phones and not enough time outside are at risk of losing their sight.

In response to the growing issue of doctors seeing youngsters with the lowest possible score for shortsightedness, Britons as young as four are using special contact lenses.

It is thought that the worrying increase is a result of children straining to look at mobile phones up close while not spending enough time focusing on further distances outside in daylight.

Dr John Bolger, a consultant ophthalmologist and director of a private eye clinic in North London, says he is deeply concerned by the rise in children developing short-sightedness, known as myopia, describing it as a ‘pandemic’.

He told the Mail on Sunday: ‘There are more and more myopic children coming into the clinic. It’s going up and up. There’s no slowing down from what I can see.

‘Myopia is not just having to wear glasses, people can go blind from myopia. This is not a trivial event, this is a serious threat.’

The surgeon explained that extended periods of looking at screens can lead to elongation of the eyeball – and that the effects of the Covid pandemic have exacerbated ‘a pandemic of myopia’.

Not spending enough time outside also hinders a child’s exposure to natural light, which is essential for regulating the growth of the eyeball and reducing the risk of myopia.

He said: ‘We’ve had children who’ve said four or five days passed during lockdown when they didn’t step outside the front door, and I’m absolutely convinced that there are many of them who would not be myopic had it not been for lockdown.

‘We’ve got children as young as four or five wearing contact lenses and children with as much as -20 prescription, and this causes very significant challenges for how they live their lives. It’s not easy. It is a disability, there’s no other way of saying it.’

Dr Bolger said that some of his young patients sleep wearing special contact lenses that change the shape of the cornea. It slows down the progression of myopia and allows them to see normally when they wake up.

Last week, Prince William called for people to spend less time on their phones, saying ‘we have got to be better at it’ while visiting the opening of a new youth club in White City, London.

He said ‘the grownups are guilty of it too’ when one youngster confessed to scrolling for too long.

Research shows that myopia has doubled over the last 50 years in the UK and that children are becoming myopic at younger ages, with over a quarter of 15-to-16 year olds now having myopia.

Dr Irfan Jeeva, a consultant ophthalmologist at the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, says that in recent years he has seen an increasing number of children need glasses to correct their short-sighted vision.

He told the Mail on Sunday: ‘It is most definitely because of too much screen time. Kids are straining their eyes to read up close and spend very little time now outside. I have young patients with such severe short-sightedness that it makes their lives very hard.

‘The only places around the world where myopia is not increasing is in those agricultural communities where children spend all day outside, adjusting their focus far away and up close constantly.

‘Parents need to get the balance right and make sure their children are using screens for entertainment as little as possible, and are getting as much daylight outdoors as they can.’

Imperial Hospital Sylhet
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Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury

Dulal Ahmed Chowdhury is the Editor of The Daily Dazzling Dawn. Previously, he has been serving in important positions in all the famous national dailies of the Bangladesh since the nineties. He has played a commendable role in journalism by participating in various events at the national and international levels. United Nations Conference, World Climate Conference, SAARC Summit are notable among them.

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