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‘The dry eye syndrome became more frequent during the Covid-19 pandemic ’

Apeejay Noida alumnus Dr Manpreet Kaur, an ophthalmologist with AIIMS, says delay in treatment owing to the pandemic has aggravated people’s eye health issues



Dr Manpreet Kaur

Dr Manpreet Kaur, MD, Assistant Professor, Cornea, Cataract & Refractive Surgery Services, Dr R P Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, says she did not require any coaching to prepare for her medical entrance exam. Whatever she learned was from her alma mater, Apeejay School, Noida, where the teachers guided her every step of the way. In an interview, Dr Kaur shares her memories from school, pandemic-induced ocular health issues, tips to keep diseases at bay, and more. Edited excerpts:

What are your best memories from school?

Apeejay School was a wholesome experience—a mix of academics and extra-curricular activities. I do remember actively participating in all the annual days, painting competitions, and inter-house competitions. It was only in higher secondary that I skipped some inter-school painting competitions. But till class 10 at least, there was a good enough balance with no real compromise in either. Of course, teachers and students shared a special camaraderie. In the later years of school, I went out with school friends and partied with teachers at their homes. Overall, they were good days.

Are you still in touch with your teachers and classmates?

Quite a few, in fact. Some of them are mothers of my then classmates, who I am in touch with. A few of them are my patients today.

What values or lessons did you take away from school?

We were not dependent on rote learning nor was it encouraged. Besides, there was always an emphasis on extra-curricular activities along with academics. So, I never really saw my academic performance as the only thing that was important. I could continue participating in these activities in college as well because of what I learned in school. The school also taught us leadership qualities and teamwork. Like in most schools, we were divided into four houses, which we were extremely attached to. In a way that shaped our personalities too and helped us learn to get along with everyone later in life.

Why did you choose to become an eye surgeon?

While I was pursuing MBBS, I decided to go into a surgical branch. The charm of microsurgery—you have to be very tech-savvy since there are a lot of gadgets involved—really attracted me. It is an extremely fine surgery that requires some amount of artistry. Since I had almost given up painting, I thought this would give me the chance to incorporate art into surgery.

Is it more difficult than general surgery?

It is definitely more difficult than general surgery in terms of the skills you develop. In terms of work hours, it is a bit more relaxed, I think. If you are looking for a relatively calmer life, ophthalmology is better than most other disciplines.

What advice would you like to give aspiring doctors at Apeejay?

My trajectory was different from most of my peers because I did not opt for any coaching. I learned everything from school and for that I want to give credit to my teachers. They were excellent. Now, it has become the trend to join popular coaching centres but personally, I do not think it is always necessary. If you are good, just find the best way to study, depending on what works for you, be it school or a coaching centre. You do not have to follow the herd.

Increased screen time during the pandemic has led to more eye problems. How can one prevent it?

We are becoming increasingly dependent on technology, and the pandemic has just got it more into focus and aggravated the situation. What we have to aim for is balance. We cannot really eliminate smartphones and laptops. So, we need to cut down on the non-essential usage of the screen. Second, we need to take a break from the screen from time to time. Be more aware when you are working on a laptop. Blink your eyes frequently. Another method that is being encouraged is the 20-20-20 rule, where you take a break for 20 seconds after every 20 minutes of screen time. You can just close your eyes if you cannot go out. This can help alleviate discomforting symptoms.

What are some of the common mistakes we make that can potentially harm ocular health?

*The most common one is not seeking medical help when you experience some discomfort. From mild irritation to the most serious ocular diseases, they have the same spectrum of symptoms. You should not try to treat any symptoms yourself.

*Over-the-counter medication can also be harmful. Often, the medicines may contain steroids which can potentially aggravate the disease.

*Masking your symptoms—you may feel like you are getting better but by the time you ask for help, it may be too late. Treatment-seeking behaviour is something we can actively inculcate in ourselves.

*Not maintaining contact lens hygiene is another problem. Daily disposable lenses are the best to curtail the risk of infection. The monthly and yearly lenses should be cleaned regularly. You should remove your lenses before sleeping.

*If you are using makeup, remove it before going to bed or it can get collected in the small pores present in the eyes. Even if it does not cause any symptoms immediately, you might get chronically dry eyes later.

*Wearing kajal on the waterline is something we should avoid.

How has the pandemic affected your profession?

There are three sets of patients now—those who had ocular diseases beforehand whose condition aggravated but could not seek proper treatment amid the pandemic; those who developed ocular symptoms due to the pandemic or the vaccine like dry eyes and loss of sight caused by Covid-induced mucormycosis; and patients with advanced cataract, due to delay in treatment, whose surgery is more challenging.

There were reports of Covid patients developing conjunctivitis. Can you please elaborate?

Earlier, experts debated whether coronavirus could be isolated from ocular fluid and the conjunctiva. Conjunctivitis is one of the most common manifestations of Covid but it does not require any specific treatment except for symptomatic management, lubricants, and antibiotics.

Disha Roy Choudhury is a Principal Correspondent at Apeejay Newsroom. She has worked as a journalist at different media organisations. She is also passionate about music and has participated in reality shows.