Specialist spells out the 20-20-20 rule for eyes

City talk | Terence Chang 22 Apr 2021

Nafees Begum Baig sent me a few of her recent pictures.

In some, she's in a white doctor's gown, smiling; in others she's having afternoon tea with friends at the Peninsula Hotel, looking relaxed.

"When I'm not working, I would spend as much time as possible with my family," she said.

"Sometimes I go for a walk, or meet with friends for tea and meals," said Baig, adding: "I also like to play video games."

This last activity has been linked to eye problems so I was a bit surprised, as she is an honorary consultant in ophthalmology at the Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital.

"Don't worry," she assured me. "I do it in moderation."

As an eye specialist, Baig naturally knows how to protect the eyes.

"You've got to observe the 20-20-20 rule, which is to stop staring at the screen after 20 minutes, rest the eyes for 20 seconds by looking at things 20 feet away to let the eye muscles relax."

In the past year, learning has shifted online and many children have been spending more time using the computer, which worsens myopia.

"Whatever you are working on, it's important to take a short break," she advised.

Baig has aspired to be a doctor since she was young. She wants to help people, and the help that an ophthalmologist can offer is quite direct. So she spent 10 years completing medical school and specialist training.

She didn't find the process grueling.

"Our study group took our learning seriously and we studied through the night at a classmate's dorm," she recalled, adding that they had fun going for night snacks.

I asked if she agrees that "the eyes are the window to the soul."

She said the eyes are not only important for communication, but can also show one's health condition.

Many symptoms of diseases, including cardiovascular, immunological and congenital ones, and even cancer, can be observed in the eyes, she explained.

Baig is an expert in glaucoma, so I asked how common the problem is and how to tell if one has it.

She told me three in 100 people over the age of 40 have it, with a higher rate in people with certain risk factors.

"Early-stage glaucoma doesn't show symptoms, so have your eyes examined regularly," she cautioned.

She believes showing concern for patients and caring for their feelings is most important.

Terence Chang Cheuk-cheung is the retired headmaster of Diocesan Boys School

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