Accommodative spasm is a condition in which the eye does not stop focusing on a nearby object, long after we have stopped looking at it, causing blurry vision when looking at objects situated at other distances. Accommodation is the medical term for when the eye focuses on a nearby object. Normally, when we cease looking at that object and turn our eyes towards other things, enabling the near focusing system to relax, and provide with a vision to see things clearly at a distance.
However, sometimes after an activity like intensive reading or watching something on the screen for a long time, when we turn our eyes away, our eyes continue focusing or ‘accommodating’. This is called accommodative spasm and its symptoms may include blurred vision, headaches, eye strain and change in vision and or difficulty concentrating. While the occasional spasm is quite normal, it can become a cause for concern when the frequency of its occurrence increases.
It is a problem commonly observed among students who are under enormous amounts of stress and are used to attending long lectures and taking extensive notes. Especially now with young children also having to spend large amounts of time in front of the screen due to the ubiquity of online classes as well as greater work load since a younger age, more and more children are at risk of suffering from this condition, causing complications in their vision immediately or in the future.
A consistent accommodative spasm is a fairly rare condition, with only 2% of the patients being diagnosed with it, however, it seems to be more common among females between the ages of 8 to 14. While it is difficult to say exactly why females are more prone to this affliction, research suggests that people who take too much undue stress, worry too much or tend to take on much more than they can realistically accomplish tend to suffer from accommodative spasms.
Taking this into consideration, the natural next question to ask would be, are female children put under more pressure to excel early on in life than male children? The answer again is complicated and would have to take into consideration several factors, but by and large it can safely be concluded that in a patriarchal society such as ours, there are different standards of behaviour that men and women are held to.
Right from the childhood years, various institutions like the family, education, books, media, culture attempt to condition male and female children to internalise certain distinct behavioral patterns depending on their sex so that they may fulfill their perceived role in society in the future, thereby ensuring the smooth functioning of the patriarchal society.
These gendered roles are not equal and a girl child is taught to be responsible for the household, be pleasant and accommodating to all, repress their anger and other emotional turmoil while also being expected to perform well in school. While a boy child will have their own set of challenges growing up, it can be argued that there is comparatively lesser things they need to worry about so early on in life. This is one of the many possible explanations as to why a stress induced condition such as accommodative spasm affects girl children more than boy children.
Generally, no treatment is required since accommodative spasms can get better on their own, yet if the problem persists, then treatments ranging from simple eye exercises and meditation at home to getting one’s vision checked and taking prescribed glasses along with eye drops can be used. The goal of any treatment is ultimately to aid the relaxation of the focusing muscles of the eye. Further, psychological evaluation of the child can also be conducted in order to understand the underlying psychological issues that might be causing this problem.
However, some precautionary measures that parents can take is maintaining a healthy family environment, spending time together without the involvement of devices like phones or computers and having conversations with the child. This can help the child beat stress in school and amongst peers because they would be confident of always having a strong support system in form of their family.
It is also necessary that parents do not pressurize their children to perform exceedingly well in exams, games or other competitive activities as well as monitor and regulate their screen time.
(The author is a Consultant Ophthalmologist at Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospital, Mumbai)
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