Have you had your children's eyes checked?
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I have been an optometrist for 14 years, and I continue to find great joy in prescribing a child's first pair of glasses and watching their astonishment as their new world comes into focus for the first time. I was one of those kids myself.
I was lucky, my parents saw a potential problem and acted quickly. They saw a slight eye turn in a picture they had taken of me when I was just 18 months old. It was not evident when they looked at me, just in the picture. They immediately took me to be evaluated by a pediatric eye doctor. They were amazed by the news they received. Their darling daughter had a condition called strabismus and farsightedness and needed eye surgery.
So, I underwent a surgery that adjusted my eye muscle in my left eye so it would not turn. I was also prescribed glasses to be worn all the time. After the surgery, I had to wear a patch over my good eye to strengthen my bad eye. My parents did everything they were told to do and thanks to them, I am 20/20 today in both eyes with correction. However, this story doesn't always end happily ever after.
Vision problems in children can occur before 12 months of age. The two most common problems are strabismus, which is a crossed or wandering eye and farsightedness, which means that the eyes are unable to focus properly. When not corrected before age 9 or 10, the developing brain does not get the stimulus it needs to develop the pathways for 20/20 vision, and the weak eye "shuts off" and vision may be permanently lost, or amblyopic.
This will affect depth perception and eye hand coordination. If found early, this condition is treatable with surgery, patching and/or glasses. Strabismus effects 3 to 5 percent of children. Preschool children can also be nearsighted which makes it hard for them to see far away. Astigmatism is when the front of the eye, or cornea, is not completely round and will blur vision at all distances. Nearsightedness and astigmatism are treated with glasses or contact lenses.
Now that you have all of this information, when should you get your child's eyes tested? Some warning signs of possible eye problems that you can look for include sitting too close to the TV, squinting, tilting the head, frequently rubbing the eyes, excessive tearing, closing one eye to read or watch TV and complaining of headaches.
Even if no signs of an eye problem are evident, the recommended first eye exam should be at 6 months of age and again at age 3, according to the American Optometric Association. Before your child enters school, it is also recommended to get a complete eye exam by an eye doctor to correct any problems that can interfere with learning.
School-aged children need an eye exam every year regardless of visual problems. Children's prescriptions can change rapidly during their growth years.
What is the difference between an eye exam and a screening done by the school or pediatrician? A screening is designed to alert parents of the possibility of an eye problem, not to take the place of a comprehensive eye exam by an eye doctor. A screening can miss a variety of vision problems. Studies have found up to 11 percent of children who pass a vision screening actually have a vision problem that needs treatment.
The only vision problem that is consistently found with a screening is nearsightedness. Children who are farsighted have very strong internal focusing mechanisms that mask their farsightedness. So, a highly farsighted child could pass a vision screening. Yet, these children will ultimately fall behind in school because of their inability to sustain this high degree of focusing with prolonged reading or computer use.
They will develop headaches and if one eye is significantly worse than the other, amblyopia or permanent vision loss can occur. Taking your child to get a complete eye exam at an eye doctor is the only sure way to diagnose vision problems.
One of the best things you can do to help your child excel in school is to make sure they have good vision. With school just around the corner, make sure to schedule your child's eye exam right away.
Dr. Amy Henry is an optometrist at Victoria Family Eyecare.