Children’s Eye Health
Among the children’s health issues that parents are most concerned with, eyes and vision rank near the top. That’s especially true because vision is very important to the development and education of a child. And parents must be extra-vigilant because a child may not realize that his vision is not normal. If it’s what he /she always knew, then naturally it will seem normal to the child. It’s up to the attentive parent to notice the signs of a vision problem and follow up with a visit to the eye doctor for a children’s eye exam.
A vision screening performed by your pediatrician or the school nurse is not a complete eye exam. These vision screenings are designed to alert parents to the possibility of a visual problem and do not take the place of a visit to the eye doctor. Studies even show that these vision screenings may miss sight-threatening eye conditions.
A comprehensive eye exam measures a number of visual skills that are critical to a child’s healthy vision, such as using both eyes as a team, the ability of the eyes to focus properly when reading a book, or viewing a computer, and the ability of the eyes to move properly when reading across a page of print.
About 80% of learning in a child’s first 12 years comes through the eyes. Some children are labeled “learning disabled” or “trouble-makers,” when all they need is an eye exam and appropriate vision correction. Good vision is fundamental to reading; it is vital to seeing such learning tools as the chalkboard, visual aids and videos. In short, good vision is as essential to learning as the ABC’s.
Lazy Eye Amblyopia
An eye condition, commonly missed with a vision screening, is amblyopia. Untreated amblyopia may lead to functional blindness in the affected eye. Although the amblyopic eye has the capability to see, the brain “turns off” this eye because vision is very blurred. Central vision does not develop properly, usually in one eye, which is called amblyopic. The brain elects to see only with the stronger eye.
Amblyopia, also known as lazy eye, is a vision problem that affects just two to three percent of the population, but if left uncorrected, it can have a very big impact on their lives. Amblyopia generally develops in young children, before age six. Children with amblyopia can be treated with patching one eye, atropine eye drops, the correct prescription for nearsightedness or farsightedness, or surgery.
If you notice any vision problems with your child, make sure he or she sees an eye doctor for a comprehensive children’s eye exam. Keep in mind that not all problems can be diagnosed by you or a school nurse; only an eye doctor has the training and equipment to catch everything.
Look for these warning signs of poor vision in your child:
- Squinting, closing or covering one eye
- Holding a book close
- Losing his or her place while reading
- Headache, nausea or dizziness
- Excessive clumsiness
- Tilting head to one side
- Frequent daydreaming
- Using a finger as a place-mark while reading
- Performing below potential
- Rubbing eyes repeatedly
Eye Development and Stages
As your child grows and develops so will their vision. Your baby’s eyes will be checked at birth and during well-baby visits throughout the first year. All babies should receive an infant’s eye exam. Dr Hall offers complimentary eye screenings for your newborn babies and up until the age of six. Babies usually see movement before anything else. Full-term babies should be able to see their mother’s facial expression within a week of birth. Color vision and depth perception aren’t yet fully developed and eye muscle coordination is also very immature. Babies often have eyes that are turned in, turned out or not working as a team, a condition known as strabismus. If this problem doesn’t resolve itself by the age of three or four months, consult an eye doctor.
Preschoolers and Vision
From ages 3 to 6, your child will be fine-tuning the vision already developed during the infant and toddler years. Older preschoolers are learning how to use sports equipment and working on the fine motor skills needed to write their names. Watch for the warning signs of visual problems, such as sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close, squinting, head tilting, eye rubbing and sensitivity to light. Farsightedness and strabismus are common problems with this age group. However, some serious problems might not have a sign; only an eye doctor can tell during a comprehensive exam.
Even if if your child exhibits no symptoms of a visual or medical problem, children need to have an eye exam by the age of 3. Having a complete child’s eye exam even before the child enters school allows enough time to catch and correct any problems while the visual system is still flexible.
If your preschooler needs glasses, make sure your child understands why. Explain that he/she needs glasses to see clearly, and give specific examples of the benefits, such as that they’ll be able to see the words in books better or will be able to play catch better because they can now see the ball.
Elementary School and Beyond
School-age children should receive a child’s eye exam before entering kindergarten and yearly after that even if they have no visual problems. It’s important to practice good hygiene, washing the face daily, keeping hands clean and away from the eye. Also, learning what to do in an eye emergency – DO NOT RUB. Let your eyes natural tears take over, close and gently cover and seek medical attention. Always use adequate lighting, keep visual materials at an 18”-24” distance, wear glasses/patches as prescribed and always play it safe.
If a visual dysfunction is part of your child’s learning difficulty, special lenses or vision therapy may help. Should your child’s visual function be an issue, ask Dr. Hall for referrals to the appropriate specialists. Visit your pediatrician as well for more information on diagnosing your child.
Sports and Playtime
Most childhood accidents occur at home with toys, careless rough housing, and bumping into countertops and tables. Closely supervise any child playing with toys that are sharp, shoot, fly, contain glitter or really anything that has the potential to get near their own eyes or their playmates eyes. If your older child plays with a chemistry set or woodworking tools, give him or her safety goggles and remind them about the importance of eye safety.
Sports-related eye injuries are topping 100,000 per year, and almost all are preventable by protective eyewear. Children are especially vulnerable to an eye injury because they don’t know that their vision, and possibly a lifetime of healthy vision, is at stake. They can wear eye protection for any sports or activities including basketball, baseball, skiing and more. Ask Dr. Hall or the optician about the best type of eye protection for your child. Better yet, make the recommendation to the coach that eye wear be mandatory!
We hope this information has been helpful for you and your family. Please, if you have not brought your child for an eye exam in over a year, make the call today and get them on the right track for a lifetime of invaluable health care. As we age, so do our eyes and many serious health disorders in the heart, brain and blood are detected during routine eye exams. See you soon!