Your baby’s vision at birth is limited but develops progressively during the growth process. While developing, your child’s vision is vulnerable to eye diseases. Untreated, vision disorders can interfere with your child’s ability to learn and play, and can lead to headaches, eyestrain and fatigue.
August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, a time to concentrate on the well-being of our children’s eyes as they head back to school.
There are many conditions and diseases that can affect a child’s vision.
Refractive errors are among them. The most common are:
• Myopia, or nearsightedness, when closer objects are clear but faraway objects are not.
• Hyperopia, or farsightedness, which is difficulty seeing close-up objects but faraway objects are clear.
• Astigmatism, blurry vision due to an irregular shape of the cornea, the clear, outer layer at the front of the eye.
Eyeglasses are typically prescribed to treat these refractive errors and provide clear vision.
Amblyopia and strabismus are other common eye disorders in children.
• Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is characterized by reduced vision from lack of use in one otherwise healthy eye. Treatment typically consists of patching the stronger eye or blurring the vision in the stronger eye with eyedrops. These techniques make the weaker eye work harder and become stronger.
• Strabismus, or crossed eyes, is when the eyes are misaligned. One or both eyes may turn inward, outward, up or down. It can be caused by problems with the eye muscles, the nerves that transmit information to the muscles or the control center in the brain responsible for eye movement. Treatment includes glasses, eye patching, muscle surgery to straighten the eyes and eye exercises.
Other nonrefractive conditions include:
• Glaucoma, a condition associated with a higher-than-normal fluid pressure inside the eyes.
• Cataracts, a clouding of the lens.
• Retinoblastoma, a rare cancer of the retina, the light-sensitive layer of nerve tissue lining the back wall of the eye.
Catching and treating eye disorders early will help a child develop healthy vision and avoid learning difficulties at home and in school. Eye care for children begins at birth. A pediatrician will perform a screening eye exam on a baby after birth. This exam can detect abnormalities in the light reflex from the pupil and eye alignment, as well as in external features of the eye.
The pediatrician will continue to check the eyes and vision during routine well-baby visits. There’s disagreement among eye specialists as to when a child should begin seeing an eye doctor for eye exams and how often a child should be examined. Follow doctor’s recommendations, which are based on your child’s specific circumstances.
Here are some things a parent can do to help protect a child’s eyes and developing vision:
• Encourage healthy eating. Healthy vision is influenced by the food we eat. Try to incorporate many fruits and vegetables into the child’s diet. Fruits and vegetables contain many of the vitamins and minerals necessary for maintaining healthy eyes and vision.
• Spend time outdoors. Playing outside for at least an hour a day, or even just taking a walk outdoors, will help eye muscles relax. It can also help lower the risk of certain eye conditions, including myopia.
• Wear sunglasses outdoors. Wearing sunglasses protects eyes from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Excessive exposure to UV radiation over time has been linked to serious eye diseases later in life.
• Wear protective eyewear while playing sports. Avoid serious eye injuries by wearing protective eyewear with shatterproof plastic. Different sports have different eyewear recommendations.
• Limit screen time. Prolonged time staring at computer and television screens may cause blurry vision, focusing problems and possibly even increase your the risk for developing myopia. Limit the amount of time on digital devices each day and ensure the child takes frequent breaks to the eyes a rest.
Set a good example for your child. Incorporate these tips into your own life as well.
If you suspect a problem with your child’s eyes or vision, contact a qualified eye doctor who can diagnose and treat the problem.