Children's Eye Health
Regular eye examinations are very important in childhood
The gift of sight is so precious. Thus, making sure your child has an eye examination at regular intervals is vital to help preserve this gift.
Problems with seeing may affect your child’s self-confidence and prevent him from participating fully in sports and games. Uncorrected poor vision will almost inevitably cause your child to have problems with learning. It has been estimated that 80% of all learning activities involve vision. It is extremely important to identify and correct any problems with sight as early as possible.
The most common sight problems that affect children are short-sight (myopia), squint (strabismus), and lazy eye (amblyopia). Blurred vision, caused by refractive error, and long-sight also affect a significant percentage of school-age children.
It is not always easy to identify a child with vision problems at an early stage. The child will assume that what it sees is normal. Sometimes the problem only becomes evident when problems with schoolwork arise and are traced back to the fact that the child is unable to see properly what is written on the blackboard.
In Wales, for example, it has been estimated that as many as 10% of children are affected by poor vision. Another study in a London borough found 12% of children had impaired vision and 43% had never had an eye examination.
Early treatment is vital
Warning signs of eye disorders in children
If your child frequently rubs his eyes, sits very near to the television or computer screen or often complains of headache, this may be a sign of eyesight problems.
A child with vision problems may try to avoid activities that require attention to detail, so for example may refuse to use puzzle books or colouring books.
Other warning signs are clumsiness and difficulties with activities that require coordination between the eyes, hands and body, for example catching a ball, riding a bicycle.
Problems with concentration, behavioural problems and poor performance at school should also be taken as warnings of potential sight defects. Some children originally diagnosed with ADHD are subsequently found to have vision problems, which are responsible for their lack of attention, becoming distracted and hyperactivity.
Some conditions, amblyopia, for example, do not give rise to such alerts. Regular eye examination is the only guarantee that eye problems will be identified and corrected at an early stage.
Eye care tips from an expert
If your child's eyesight needs correction
In the past, children who had to wear glasses were often made to feel inferior by their peers. They would be thought of as geeky or nerdy and taunted by names such as “four-eyes”.
Today, children who need vision correction have many role models, who have made it “cool” to wear glasses. A survey by the UK College of Optometrists found that 86% of teenagers said they admired Johnny Depp in his spectacles. Among the under-10s, 85% thought that glasses were “cool” because Harry Potter wears them. Elton John, Bill Gates and Doctor Who are among others cited by children as positive role models for spectacle wearers.
If your child needs glasses, give him the opportunity, as far as possible, to select frames that he likes.
Children can also be fitted with contact lenses. Your child must be capable of inserting and removing the lenses himself and must understand how to look after the lenses properly.
Natural vision correction
Natural vision correction uses a combination of eye exercises, relaxation techniques and nutritional supplements in order to correct vision. Most optometrists and ophthalmologists are sceptical about the benefits and point out that practitioners of natural vision correction techniques tend not to have professional qualifications in ophthalmology or optometrics. The techniques in themselves are not harmful. If you wish to explore the potential benefits of natural vision correction for your child, do make sure that he also remains under the supervision of an eye professional, continues to wear his glasses or contact lenses and has a regular eye examination.
Wearing specs is cool
Prevention of vision problems and eye diseases
There are a number of ways in which you can help to ensure your child enjoys the best possible eye health, now and in years to come.
Don't forget the shades
Unbreakable, flexible and polarized kids sunglasses
These sunglasses have rubber frames, which make them flexible and comfortable to wear as well as virtually unbreakable. The polycarbonate lenses are resistant to impact and scratching and meet the specifications of the American Optometric Association. They come in four color choices (I like the pink and turquoise best!).
Exposure to light
A certain amount of exposure to natural light is beneficial. Australian researchers found that children who play outside for longer periods have better eyesight than children who stay indoors most of the time. Being outside in natural light for 2-3 hours each day halves the risk of children becoming short sighted. This is thought to be due to the protective effect of chemicals released within the eye in response to bright light.
On the other hand, excessive exposure of the eyes to sunlight can promote the development of age-related macular degeneration and cataract. Over-exposure of eyes to sunlight in childhood can therefore set in motion processes that will result in vision problems in later years.
A UK survey found that 76% of parents did not ensure that their child wore sunglasses with UV protection, despite being meticulous about using sun cream on their child. Of those who did address the matter, only 25% bought a reputable brand of sunglasses, with most of the remainder putting price above quality.
Another study found that very young children who slept with a night light were more likely to become short-sighted. Short sight is caused by excessive growth of the eyeball. This growth is most rapid before the age of two years. Exposure to light during the night is thought to stimulate this growth even further.
Eat your greens (and your reds, oranges, yellows, purples...)!
A healthy diet
Diabetes and high cholesterol levels are risk factors associated with the development of cataract. Bringing up your child to enjoy a healthy diet and to avoid overeating will help to prevent them developing these conditions in later life. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables will also supply anti-oxidants such as vitamins C and E and beta-carotene. These are thought to reduce the risk of cataracts developing.
Good control of blood sugar levels if your child is already diabetic will reduce the risk of vision impairment and even blindness caused by diabetic retinopathy.
Reading and computer use
There is no hard evidence that reading small print or using a computer for long periods causes permanent damage to the eyes. However, the strain placed on the eyes by these activities can make them red and sore, and can cause temporary blurred vision, headache and fatigue. If your child has impaired vision, these effects may be more pronounced.
Make sure that work and reading areas are well lit and that computer screens are not too bright. A desk lamp with a daylight bulb can be helpful. Encourage your child to take frequent breaks from books and the computer. If possible, try to incorporate some time outdoors during these breaks.
Act now to prevent later problems
Eyes are precious and irreplaceable. Regular eye examination, a healthy lifestyle and a few simple precautions will ensure the best possible vision for your child and the increased quality of life this entails.