Did you know regular appointments with your optician are as important for your child’s health and development as those with your dentist and doctor?
The impact poor vision can have on your child
Poor vision can affect a child’s physical, emotional and social development. And it can have a particular impact on their education as during a child’s first 12 years around 80% of their learning is dependent on good eyesight. Yet, because children have no way of knowing their vision is different from other people’s, it’s easy for problems to be missed.
In a recent publication, the Association of Optometrists report that one in five children have an undetected eye problem. This is why it’s so important to get your child’s eyes tested early, so your optician can pick up and help you manage any potential problems.
When should I take my child to see the optician?
Your health visitor will check your child’s eyes soon after they are born and again when they’re six weeks old. The next test should be when your child can recognise pictures, usally around the age of two. However, if your child is younger but you have concerns about their sight, then we are able to get an indication of their vision using alternative testing.
Eye problems are much easier to treat if they are picked up when your child’s vision is still developing, which is usually up to around seven or eight years of age.
The College of Optometrists recommend children should have their vision tested once a year until they reach their teens and then once every other year if they have good sight. The test only takes about 20 minutes, is free and young children do not need to be able to read or recognise letters to take it.
In recent years there’s been a big change in attitudes and more and more children think wearing glasses is cool, no doubt influenced enormously by the Harry Potter films! In fact, many children are disappointed when they find out they don’t need glasses.
How you can help spot if your child has a problem with their vision
Does your child:
- Frequently squint or frown
- Rub their eyes a lot
- Close one eye when they read or watch TV
- Often complain of tired eyes or headaches
- Seem sensitive to light
- Struggle to read at long distances, for example when looking at the board at school
- Find it hard to learn to read
- Often miss words or lines when they read
If so, they may have a problem with their vision.
Some of these symptoms can be misdiagnosed as dyslexia or other learning difficulties so it’s vital you find out exactly what’s causing them as soon as you can. It may be, rather than one to one support in school, all your child needs is a pair of glasses.
Eye problems common in children
Long-sightedness, also known as hyperopia, is one of the most common vision problems found in children. It occurs when the length of the eyeball is shorter than normal, causing light coming into the eye to focus behind instead of directly on to the retina. This makes near vision appear blurry.
If you notice your child struggles to see things up close, or experiences tired eyes and poor concentration, they may be long-sighted.
Short-sightedness, or myopia, is what happens when the eyeball is longer than normal. This makes long vision appear blurry and anything in the distance hard to see. If you notice your child constantly sits up close to the television or whiteboard, or squints to see things in the distance, they may be short-sighted.
Prevention: More time outdoors! Recent research shows that spending more time outdoors can help to regulate short-sighted eyes*. Short-sightedness can develop when the eyeballs grow too fast and become longer than usual. Being outside encourages the release of retinal dopamine which can slow down this rapid growth. Researchers now encourage kids to spend a minimum of two hours a day outside to help slow down the progress of myopia, or even prevent it altogether.
Astigmatism is when the cornea (the layer of tissue covering the front of the eyes) is shaped oblong like a rugby ball instead of round like a football. This causes light to focus on two points in the eye instead of one. Mild astigmatism is common in young children and usually resolves itself as they get older. Like other vision problems, astigmatism can often go unnoticed as its slow progression makes it difficult to diagnose.
If your child has trouble reading words in the distance, has blurry vision, squints, suffers frequent headaches or finds it difficult to concentrate they may have astigmatism.
When the brain doesn’t receive the same information from both eyes, it can effectively ‘switch off’ or ignore the image in one eye in order to obtain a clear picture and avoid confusion. This is commonly known as lazy eye and is a main cause of binocular vision problems.
Lazy eye affects one in fifty children and needs to be treated as soon as possible. Once diagnosed, it can be cured using an eye patch as long as treatment starts early. Once a child reaches seven or eight and their vision matures, the central vision in the weaker eye may never develop to normal levels.
Binocular vision problems occur when the eyes can’t maintain focus on one point simultaneously to create a single image. This causes problems with depth perception and makes it difficult to judge distances effectively. A child with binocular vision problems is likely to experience learning difficulties, which can have a broader impact on their development, confidence and wellbeing.
Help protect your child’s eyesight
Our modern digital world is putting even more pressure on our children’s eyes. So it’s more important than ever that we look after their eyesight from the moment they’re born.
Like a trip to the doctor or dentist, your child may be worried about going for an eye test. However, our optometrists are skilled at working with children and make eye exams fun for them. The test is quick, painless and free.
So please don’t delay. Call today and make an appointment for the summer holidays. We’d love to see you.
* more time outdoors can help to regulate short-sighted eyes – reference