As a parent, you can play a critical role in protecting and caring for your youngster's visual development. Be sure that routine eye exams are carried out at regular intervals and know the signs of potential eye problems.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the following routine screenings be performed on schedule:
- Your baby's first routine screening is performed immediately after birth, when the obstetrician checks for evidence of infection or structural abnormalities.
- At six months, your pediatrician checks to see that your baby's eyes and eyelids are developing properly, and that they are properly coordinated. About four percent of babies develop some form of misalignment, crossed eyes being the most familiar problem. Misalignments are typically referred to an ophthalmologist. This specialist can usually correct the condition with exercises, patching, special glasses, or surgery.
- At three years, your child is shown a junior version of the eye chart (made up of such familiar images as a bird, dog, house, and truck) and asked to identify them at a distance. This reveals his ability to focus and see things sharply. Problems such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism (found in over 10 percent of pre-school children) begin to show up at this time. When indicated, the pediatrician will refer you to an ophthalmologist for further evaluation and possibly a prescription for eye glasses.
At six years, or just prior to entering school, essentially the same examination as was given at age three is repeated. This time, if your child already knows the alphabet, the standard eye chart may be used.
"Lazy eye" (amblyopia) may be detected at age three. Lazy eye develops in about two percent of children. It occurs when a child sees less well out of one eye than the other for reasons of a focusing error, misalignment, or some injury. The better eye then takes on the burden of sight and the poorer eye, unable to compete, stops trying. Lazy eye should be treated as soon as it is detected, as corrective treatment becomes more difficult as time passes and is virtually impossible by the time a child reaches puberty.
Signs of eye problems
Not all eye conditions cause your child discomfort, so it's quite possible that your youngster won't cry or even mention a problem, thinking that what he or she is experiencing is something ordinary. Call your child's pediatrician if you observe any of the following symptoms:
- frequent eye rubbing
- squinting or frowning when trying to focus on something
- blinking with unusual frequency
- tilting or turning the head to see better as a regular practice
- stumbling over small objects
- inability to see objects clearly in various light conditions
- frequent headaches or problems at school
- red-rimmed, encrusted, or swollen eyes
- bloodshot or watery eyes
- sties that develop frequently
- any accident that might have caused injury to the eye, including contact with an aerosol spray, or impact from a blunt or sharp object
by Wendy Murphy