Understanding eye issues in young children
Healthy eyes and vision are often overlooked by parents when it comes to the well-being of their children. Often, it’s only when a child begins to have vision problems do parents realise that eye care is a critical part of a kid’s development. The majority of children are born without any serious eye conditions. However, many develop refractive errors during their childhood, some as young as three years old. If not properly dealt with, these conditions can adversely affect your child’s performance in school and at play. In short, it interferes with a child’s quality of life. Hence, children’s eyes should be examined regularly, as many vision problems and eye diseases can be detected and treated early.
The different eye doctors
Different kinds of doctors offer different eye care, and the names can be confusing:
- Ophthalmologists are medical doctors for they’ve attended medical school. They provide comprehensive eye care with medicine and surgery.
- Pediatric ophthalmologists have additional special training to treat kids’ eye problems.
- Optometrists provide services that may be similar to ophthalmologists, but they don’t perform surgery. Some optometrists specialise in kids’ eye problems.
- Opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses.
Make eye exams for your child a priority
Routine medical exams for your child’s vision should not be overlooked. Below are some factors to consider seriously.
- Around age 3½, kids should undergo eye health screenings and visual acuity tests (or tests that measure sharpness of vision) with their pediatrician or family doctor.
- Around age 5, kids should have their vision and eye alignment evaluated by their doctors. Those who fail either test should be examined by their pediatrician or family doctor. After age 5, further routine screenings should be done at school or the doctor’s office, or after the appearance of symptoms such as squinting or frequent headaches. It is not uncommon that a teacher will realise the child isn’t seeing well in class!
- Kids who wear prescription glasses or contacts should not go without regular checkups by an eye doctor to screen for vision changes.
Spotting Eye Problems
Signs that a child may have vision problems include:
- Constantly rubbing his or her eyes
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Seems to focus poorly
- Shows poor visual tracking, slow to follow an object
- Chronic redness of the eyes
- Constant tearing of the eyes, which is not from crying
- Has a whitish pupil instead of black
In school-age children, watch for other signs such as:
- Difficulty or inability to see objects at a distance
- Difficulty or inability to read the blackboard
- Constant squinting
- Difficulty in reading
- Sits too close to the TV
Parents are encouraged to look out for evidence of poor vision or crossed eyes. If you notice any eye problems, have your child examined immediately so that the problem doesn’t become permanent. Remember, if detected early, eye conditions often can be reversed.
Common eye problems among children
Genes, lifestyle and other factor may render children susceptible to several eye conditions. Most of these can be detected by a vision screening using an acuity chart from the age of 4 onward. Here are some conditions that parents should be aware about:
Amblyopia Also known as”lazy eye“. Diagnosed as poor vision in an eye that may appear to be normal. Two common causes are crossed eyes and a difference in the refractive error between the two eyes. If untreated, amblyopia can cause irreversible visual loss in the affected eye because in time, the brain’s programming will ignore signals from that eye. Amblyopia is best treated during the pre-school years.
Strabismus is a misalignment of the eyes; they may turn in, out, up, or down. If the same eye is chronically misaligned, amblyopia may also develop in that eye. With early detection, vision can be restored by patching the properly aligned eye, which forces the misaligned one to work. Surgery or specially designed glasses also may help the eyes to align.
Refractive errors. Happens when the shape of the eye doesn’t refract, or bend light properly, so images appear blurred. Refractive errors also can causeamblyopia. Near sightedness is the most common refractive error in school-age children; others include farsightedness and astigmatism:
*Nearsightedness is poor distance vision (also called myopia), which is usually treated with glasses or contacts.
*Farsightedness is poor near vision (also called hyperopia), which is usually treated with glasses or contacts.
*Astigmatism is imperfect curvature of the front surface of the eye, which is usually treated with glasses if it causes blurred vision or discomfort.
Glasses and Contacts
Children of all ages can (and some have to!) wear glasses. Modern kids of today are more style-conscious than ever before and its not necessarily a bad thing. It is important to keep in mind that young children need to keep their confidence about themselves and their appearance is no exception. Keep these tips in mind for kids who wear glasses:
- Within reason, do allow them to pick their own frames. After all, it’s your kid who is going to be sporting them, not you.
- If older kids wear metal frames, make sure they have spring hinges, which are more durable.
- An elastic strap attached to the glasses will help keep them in place for active younger children.
Kids with severe eye problems may need special lenses called high-index lenses, which are thinner and lighter than plastic lenses. Polycarbonate lenses are recommended for all kids, especially for kids who play sports. Polycarbonate is a tough, shatter-proof, transparent thermoplastic used to make thin, light lenses. However, although they’re very impact-resistant, these lenses scratch more easily than plastic lenses.
Around age 10, kids may express a desire to get contact lenses for vanity reasons or convenience if they are active in sports. Allowing a child to wear contacts depends on his or her ability to insert and remove lenses properly. A kid has to know the importance of removing the contacts as required and also cleaning them as recommended by the optician. Contact lens problems, both in children and adults alike, are almost always caused by poor habits and bad hygiene. Ensure that your child is clear about these facts before considering contacts for him or her.