Most parents believe that if their child had an eye or vision problem they would know. However, this is far from the truth for a number of reasons. First of all, children often can’t express or don’t realize the difficulty they are having. Often a child will act out or have trouble paying attention in class or at home, and vision problems will be overlooked as the cause. Many times these behaviors are misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD, and their difficulty learning will be chalked-up to learning disabilities. Further, many eye or vision problems don’t show symptoms until they have progressed significantly which often makes the condition harder to treat.
Conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (crossed-eyes) can be corrected more effectively when they are diagnosed and treated early at a young age. The sooner you diagnose and correct a vision problem, the sooner your child will be able to achieve his or her potential without struggling with these difficulties. This is why it is critical to have your child’s eyes examined by an eye doctor at regular intervals. Here are some FAQs and answers about Children’s Vision that every parent should know:
Q: How early and how often should children get eye exams?
A: The official recommendations from the American and Canadian Optometric Associations are that infants should have their first eye exam at 6 months. Following that, children with no healthy vision should have another exam no later than 3 years old, and again prior to entering kindergarten.
Children who don’t need eyeglasses, other vision correction or vision therapy should have a vision checkup every year or two years. Children who do require glasses or vision therapy should have an annual eye exam.
If your child is experiencing difficulty in school or after-school activities, such as double/blurry vision, headaches or problems keeping their place while reading, these may be due to problems with their vision, and you should schedule an eye exam immediately.
Q: My child passed a school vision screening. Does he still need an eye exam?
A: Yes. Many schools implement a basic vision screening test to assess whether the child sees clearly at a distance. However, these tests are limited in scope. They can tell your child if they have 20/20 vision, but do not assess functional vision such as the child’s ability to focus, track words on a page or the eyes’ ability to work together properly.
In fact, studies show that up to 43% of children with vision problems can pass a vision screening test! A comprehensive eye exam will assess all of these functions as well as color vision, depth perception, and eye coordination.
School vision screenings also don’t look at the health of the eye itself. These screenings will not catch eye conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma, which can cause severe damage to the eye, as well as extensive vision loss, if not detected and treated early.
Q: My child was diagnosed with strabismus and amblyopia. What are my treatment options?
A: Strabismus and amblyopia are easily treatable when diagnosed and treated early. The best results occur in children who are treated for these conditions before 8-10 years old. Depending on the severity of the strabismus (crossed-eye), surgery may be required to straighten and properly align the crossed eyes. Amblyopia (lazy eye) can be treated using eyeglasses, eye patching, or vision therapy to strengthen the weak eye and train the eyes to work together.
A doctor that specializes in pediatric optometry can assess the condition and discuss treatment options on an individual basis.
Q: What is vision therapy and what can it help with?
A: Vision therapy is a doctor-supervised, individualized program of in-office and at-home eye exercises to strengthen coordination between both eyes and the brain. It is used to correct vision issues such as misalignment of the eyes, focusing issues, problems with eye teaming and eye-hand coordination, visual tracking problems and more.
Vision therapy often utilizes tools such as specialized lenses or prisms, and the process usually takes about 6 months, with weekly half-hour sessions, to see lasting improvement.
Q: My son’s nearsightedness keeps getting worse. Is there a way to stop this?
A: Yes. Extensive research shows that myopia progression can be slowed down or even stopped completely during childhood. A number of tools and technologies exist for what is called “myopia control.” These include multifocal eyeglasses or contact lenses, orthokeratology (ortho-k) and atropine eye drops.
Speak to a pediatric optometry specialist to learn more about the options and what might work best for your child.
Q: What can I do to encourage my child to wear their glasses?
A: It may take time for your child to adapt to the feel of the glasses and to be comfortable seeing with them. For little children, you can find glasses that come with integrated headbands that can help to hold the glasses in place. It helps to be consistent in putting them on to allow the child to adapt to the feel of the glasses.
Very often, especially for small children that can’t tell you what is bothering them, the reason for a child’s refusal to wear glasses is that something is not comfortable. It could be that the prescription is not right, that the glasses pinch or that are feeling heavy. It could be worthwhile to take the glasses back to the eye doctor to ensure that they are in fact a proper fit.
Q: At what age can my child wear contact lenses?
A: Contact lenses can be a great convenience, especially for kids that are active or tend to break or lose their glasses. However, they are a medical device that must be treated with proper care and hygiene. If a child is not responsible enough to take care of them properly they could end up with a serious eye infection, a scratched cornea or worse. Most experts agree that the youngest age that contact lenses should be considered would be between 10-12 depending on the child’s maturity and cleanliness. Consult with your eye doctor about what would be best for your child.