The recent changes in our everyday lives due to the pandemic have brought various ocular problems to focus. Refractive error is one of the problems that has seen a surge globally owing to constant screen time and home confinement. The increased duration and intensity of near-work activities have added to the risk of developing a refractive error. Refractive error occurs when the shape of the eye keeps light from focusing correctly on the retina. This leads to blurred vision, difficulty in reading, deviation of the eyes, strain and headache. The most commonly reported problems related to refractive error are: –
- Myopia – Near-sightedness, caused due to increase in the length of the eyeball; usually occurs among 15-49 per cent of adults and 1.2-42 per cent of the young population.
- Hyperopia- Far-sightedness is caused due to a decrease in the length of the eyeball or when the cornea is not curved enough. It is common among adults as they get older.
- Astigmatism – It is a defect caused by imperfections of the eye’s cornea or lens. It leads to the deviation of light rays in different directions and the inability to have a common focus point.
According to Dr. Samar Sengupta, Consultant – Ophthalmologist, Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospitals, Kolkata, “Refractive error is one of the most common ocular conditions affecting all age groups in the country. Genetic (age, family history, and ethnicity) and environmental factors (excessive near work, reading in dim lighting, decreased outdoor time, lack of physical activity, and unbalanced diet) affect the eyes. Other factors like excessive eye rubbing, allergic conjunctivitis, contact lens use, and ptosis also create an impact.
Dr. Samar Sengupta adds, “For the past few years, about 200 people have reported in December with difficulty in reading, probably due to multiple holidays and winter vacations for the children. The major pack affected usually resides in the metropolitan cities of which 60 per cent are males aged between 7 to 35 years”.
About correcting the issue of Refractive Error, Dr. Samar Sengupta advised, “The situation should be assessed and ministered to as per the severity of the condition. People with gentle asymptomatic refractive errors can opt to leave the condition untreated. However, symptomatic patients can consider glasses, contact lenses, refractive surgery, or a combination of the three. It is vital to comprehend that the overall magnitude of the problem is huge, and it is imperative to prioritize refractive services to avoid visual impairment or even complete blindness at times.”
Year on year, the refractive errors curve is rising by 8-10 per cent. We can try and manage the problem with regular eye checks, limited screen time, wearing prescribed glasses, 20 20 20 exercises (after every 20 minutes of screen-time, you are required to look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds) and a healthy balanced diet. Despite the easy availability of effective treatments to counter the problem, uncorrected refractive error is a public health challenge due to the negligence of the masses. The course of action at times depends on the age of the patient.
Dr. Samar Sengupta concluded, “If the patient is under 18 years of age, glasses are prescribed. If between 18 to 40 years of age, then the patient can plan for refractive surgery. Amongst all the refractive procedures available, SMILE (Small Incision Lenticule Extraction) is a complete laser procedure which has best postoperative outcomes and a faster healing process.”