We tend to be a bit laissez-faire when it comes to our children’s vision; the childcare nurse or the school will pick up any problem, we often assume. But unfortunately, many kids fall through the cracks.
Many of the vision problems that develop can be avoided with routine eye examinations.
Myopia control: Nip it in the bud
Short-sightedness (myopia) often starts off around puberty, but it can affect children of any age. It is on the increase, especially if you’re of East Asian descent. (In some East Asian cities, over 90 per cent of school leavers are short-sighted). Myopia doesn’t simply mean the hassle of a pair of glasses or contact lenses; higher degrees of myopia can be detrimental to the health of many of the eye’s delicate structures, including the retina.
Short-sightedness is often picked up in the schoolroom by a teacher who notices that a child cannot see the board. But it may have been affecting them for months before it is picked up. Routine eye examinations will pick up if your child is short-sighted, and if they are, your optometrist can advise how it can be managed. Myopia control is different to simply managing myopia with glasses or contact lenses. Instead, it slows or halts the progression of your child’s myopia. This can be done with a special kind of contact lens worn during sleep (called orthokeratology or ortho-K). Alternatively it can be managed through the use of eye drops.
Amblyopia: Patch it now – or pay later
Struggling at school?
Often, when a child is struggling at school, whether with literacy tasks or on the sports field, poor vision can be the root of the problem. Long-sightedness can cause eyestrain and tiredness with close work. Visual stress can mimic dyslexia, with symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and words moving on the page. A comprehensive eye examination can quickly identify any of these problems so that they can be managed with prescription glasses, eye exercises or tinted lenses. Ask if you optometrist has experience with children’s vision before booking.
How often should kids be tested?
Children’s vision is screened when they are babies and, if they attend pre-school, it is assessed at around 3-4 years of age (but kids are often missed because they are absent on the day of the screening). A full eye examination is recommended at around 4 years of age. You don’t need to wait until your child knows their alphabet fully, as vision can be tested in other ways. Depending on the findings, your optometrist will recommend retesting at regular intervals (1-2 yearly in most cases). If you notice your child showing signs of eyestrain (squinting, headaches, needing to be near the TV or whiteboard to see) then you should book an eye test straight away.