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
Children are not born with fully-developed vision. For the first seven or eight years of their lives, the neural pathways from their eyes to their brains are still developing. If a child cannot see clearly through one (or both) eyes during that time, the vision won’t develop properly. This often happens if the eyes are not aligned, and turn in or out slightly. This means the two eyes see different pictures and the solution for a confused brain is to simply switch off one eye and ignore it.
If this happens throughout childhood, without being picked up and corrected, the child will end up with permanently impaired vision. This is known as amblyopia
or a lazy eye. This really needs to be picked up early for the best chance of a good outcome. Eyes may be patched for a period each day to encourage the ‘lazy’ eye to develop. It is still possible to achieve some improvement in vision by patching children older than 8 years of age but by then it is often too late to fully restore vision to the affected eye. Any sign of a turn in your child’s eyes should be investigated.
This may be evident in photos, where only one of your child’s eyes has the red reflex from the flash, indicating that the eyes are not aligned. Children who wear corrective lenses and / or patching when they are younger, often do not need glasses when they are older. Untreated children can end up with a permanently lazy eye that doesn’t see as well as the other, even when glasses are worn.
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.
Call us on 02 9290 1899 and book an appointment for your child today.