Children’s Eye Health and Safety

Eye Protection

This August as our children head back to school, we can all use a reminder of the importance of screening their vision. Many kids will struggle with reading, classwork, or attention to the teachers’ lessons, and sometimes the explanation may be far simpler than a learning disorder.

Maybe they just can’t see very well.

Kids with ocular issues don’t always know that something is wrong. After all, they’ve had those eyes since birth—how would they know that they see any differently from you? Visual defects aren’t always obvious, but a complete eye exam can help diagnose any underlying issues that may be affecting your child without your knowledge.

Your optometrist can perform comprehensive eye exams with a series of tests to help determine if your child needs a refractive correction, such as glasses or contact lenses, in order to see their best at both distance and near. Additionally, your eye doctor can diagnose a number of ocular health disorders, ranging from the common red-green color vision deficiencies to disorders generated by premature birth, trauma, or other unknown factors. These exams can distinguish a developmental physiological or “normal” anomaly from true pathology, and help you plan for your child’s future ocular health.

Examples from our optometrists

3 year-old Sam is a healthy young patient who has a big smile for everyone, listens to our staff, responds to greetings, and follows our fixation targets in the exam room. Sam’s parents, however, are worried because his left eye tends to cross in towards his nose. What is wrong with his eyes?

Stella, a charming 10 year-old who loves to play soccer, presents for a second opinion on her eyes. Her mother does not think she needs her glasses, but this other doctor down the street insists that Stella needs them. Does she really have to endure these glasses that give her a headache?

Six year-old Davey laughs as our doctor gives him a fist-bump for calling out the smallest letters on our office’s alphabet program. He is the apple of his father’s eye, the youngest of three children, and the only one whose school nurse has written home for him to get an eye exam. The father thinks there has been a mistake. Of course Davey can see! Maybe he was just having an off day when the nurse did the screening?

Undiagnosed Need for Glasses

Even if a child can read and function at home, a cycloplegic refractive exam may uncover a latent or hidden prescription that could be affecting the child’s reading speed, focusing, and attention span at school.

Six year-old Davey had such an exam with one of our providers. His refractive error, or glasses prescription, went all the way up to a +2.00. In his new glasses, smart and engaging Davey’s reading speed improved tremendously at school and he continues to score at the top of his class.

Kids and Sports

There are about 42,000 sports-related eye injuries every year in America, and children suffer most of these injuries.* Sports vision therapy comprises an entire arena of the Optometric industry. However, it all commences with a baseline complete exam.

Soccer player Stella has a moderate amount of astigmatism, a type of refractive error induced by a football-shaped eye. We recommended pushing through the adaptation period and keeping her glasses on. She soon stopped getting the headaches, at which point we introduced her to daily contact lenses. She continues to be a star forward player on her team, using her contact lenses for the best vision and a pair of safety glasses to avoid injury.

Outdoor play and sports is one of the most important things for children’s eye health. Adequate safety glasses are important for all children, and especially those playing sports. Set them up with spectacles and sports goggles, or polarized sunglasses, made with shatter resistant polycarbonate lenses, and both the Pediatric and Optometry departments will give you a round of applause.

Is this a lazy eye?

Approximately nine out of ten patients report prior diagnoses, or have questions about a “lazy eye.” This is a blanket term for a disorder of ocular muscle control and function, known as strabismus. True strabismus can in fact have a permanent impact on vision and muscle function, causing strabismic amblyopia, where the affected eye is unable to achieve the optimal target of 20/20 vision. However, young children can often manifest with false eye turns due to excess tissue along their eyelids.

Three-year old Sam was just such an example of pseudostrabismus. His left eye did indeed intermittently appear to drift towards his nose during our cover tests. Our exam indicated no need for glasses, and we had the parents bring him back for a six month follow up, upon which the symptom was resolved.

What You Can Do

Make sure your child receives a complete eye exam from an eye doctor at least once before they start school, and regularly after they begin school, even if it doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong. That way, you can be sure to catch any underlying issues before your child’s performance and school life is permanently affected.

Children’s eye issues are more common than we think. Fortunately, your eye doctors have the expertise and dedication to help make sure that these issues are uncovered and treated, so your child can be as safe, healthy, and happy as you always hope for them to be.

Did you know…?

  • Most children are born hyperopic, or far-sighted.
  • The process of emmetropization, or “growing out of it,” is generally completed by three years of age.
  • The critical period of development for the human eye is between six to nine years of age. This is the most crucial time for neuronal connections to develop, to hone the refractive and oculomotor systems, and to ensure maximum functional potential.
  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Optometric Association both advocate comprehensive examinations for every child at regular intervals throughout childhood.
  • Sources

    American Academy of Optometry
    American Academy of Ophthalmology

    Posted in: Children's Eye Health, Eye Doctor in Alaska, Eye Health Guide, Eyes, Patient Education, Uncategorized

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