Most children are born with healthy vision that continues into adulthood. However, it’s not something parents can take for granted. Terrible accidents and multiple eye health conditions can (and do) affect children’s vision.
To help keep our children’s eyes safe and healthy and prevent the little ones from becoming afflicted with long-term vision problems or even permanent sight loss, there are steps that parents can take.
1. Take your child for regular eye tests
Attending regular eye tests can ensure you have an overall picture of your child’s eye health and alert you to any potential issues before they become more serious. Around one in four school-age children have an eye health problem that could lead to permanent loss of vision if not found early enough.
For this reason, find a good pediatric ophthalmologist and get regular checkups. The following test schedule is typically recommended for young children:
- Your newborn baby’s eyes should be screened within the first three months of their life.
- A second screening should take place before their first birthday.
- Your child should have their vision tested again at approximately three and five years of age.
- If there are no immediate concerns, your ophthalmologist may recommend a bi-annual screening program from this point.
However, if your child has additional risk factors, they may need to be seen more often. These could include:
- A family history of eye diseases
- Premature birth
- Developmental delays
- Medical issues that may affect their eye health (i.e., diabetes or high blood pressure)
- A preexisting eye health or vision problem
- A previous eye injury
What will my child be screened for?
Your family ophthalmologist will primarily be testing for these four common issues:
- Amblyopia, which is where the brain can switch off images from a weaker or problematic eye. It is a serious problem if left untreated and can become permanent. However, wearing a patch over the stronger eye for a period of time can usually correct the issue if found in time.
- Ptosis is a drooping of the upper eyelid that can cover the pupil, sometimes completely. This is usually corrected by surgery.
- Strabismus is a condition that often presents itself as “crossed eyes.” It can be corrected by glasses or sometimes surgery.
- Refractive errors like nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) and astigmatism. If undetected, these problems can affect a young child’s development or later affect school performance. They can usually be corrected with glasses, or contact lenses for older children. Older children may be suited to Ortho-K lenses, which are only worn overnight but provide good daytime vision by gently reshaping the eye temporarily.
All these childhood eye conditions are not always obvious, particularly refractive disorders, so professional screening for these disorders is a must for young children. A good ophthalmologist will also provide you with sound advice on how to care for your child’s eyes. Time at your eye doctor’s office is definitely time well spent.
2. Keep your home “eye-safe”
Many accidents that affect children’s eye health happen at home. For this reason, it makes sense to pay careful attention to eliminating potential hazards in your home as much as possible. As they say, prevention is better than cure. Here are a few eye safety tips for the home:
- Falls are a common cause of eye injury. Use stair gates to prevent young children from using the stairs unsupervised, keep floors clear of trip hazards, and consider using protective guards on the sharp corners of furniture.
- Keep household cleaning chemicals, laundry detergents, and toiletries where your child cannot get a hold of them.
- Make sure toys are age-appropriate and that your child is using them correctly. For instance, eye injuries from toy guns or toys with protruding parts are common.
3. Insist that your child wears appropriate eye safety wear for sports
Children are sometimes reluctant to put on eye safety wear for sports, but encourage them to follow in the footsteps of their favorite professional athletes. More and more pro athletes are wearing protective eyewear. This is because they understand the dangers their sport poses to their eyesight.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, an ER deals with sports-related eye injuries once every 13 minutes. That’s 100,000 injuries per year. One in three of those treated is a child. However, 90% of these accidents could have been prevented by the correct safety eyewear.
More sports pose a risk to eyesight than you may first realize. There are the obvious dangers of balls and bats, but collisions and pokes by fingers are also common. Wearing protective eyewear is a must for most sports.
What should you look for in protective eyewear for kids?
The level of protection needed will depend on the sport. High-risk sports like ice hockey or American football in particular may require a helmet with a faceguard. In other ball sports like soccer or tennis, or in contact sports like martial arts, it is advisable that your child wear sports goggles.
Whatever eyewear you choose, make sure it features polycarbonate lenses. This is a shatterproof material. Note that regular glasses or sunglasses are not necessarily shatterproof and may cause additional trauma to the eye if hit. Also, ensure eyewear is well-fitting so that it is comfortable for your child and will not move during play.
You should also check that your choice of eyewear has the appropriate safety certification (i.e., an American Society for Testing and Materials approval).
Following these three steps can’t guarantee the safety or long-term health of your child’s eyes. However, it will definitely lower the risks of accidents and greatly reduce the possibility of an undetected eye condition affecting your child’s sight permanently. Those are very good reasons to step up and ensure you’ve done the very best you can by your child’s eyes.