Childhood should be a time of joy and discovery, exploring the world around us and everyone and everything in it. Healthy vision is crucial to this and indeed all other aspect of early development.
For this reason, as well as the impact of increased exposure to screen devices such as mobile phones and iPad’s, it is advisable to have children’s eyes evaluated and, if necessary, treated before they start school.
Eye To Eye With Children’s Eye Disease
The following are the most common eye diseases that could affect children:
Epiphora (Blocked tear ducts)
Chalazion (Swelling of the eyelid)
Amblyopia is also known as lazy eye and occurs when one eye does not receive as clear a picture as the other. The most common causes are strabismus, refractive error (incorrect focussing power), ptosis (droopy eyelid) and cataract (clouding or opacity in the lens).
Treatment options include patching and/or glasses and if started at an early age, vision can be improved significantly.
Epiphora is caused by blockages in the duct that drains tears from the eye to the nose.
The condition often remedies itself over time. If it does not improve within 12 months, or frequent infection occurs, a small surgical procedure may be necessary.
Chalazion is a small swelling of the eyelid caused by a blockage in the glands which could be accompanied by redness and yellowy ooze. A child could have a number of these swellings on an eyelid at any one time, and the condition can affect one or both eyes.
Consult your family doctor who will suggest initial treatment. If there is no improvement after three or four months, an eye specialist should be consulted.
Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
Pink eye can be either a viral or bacterial infection which are both very contagious, or it could be a non-contagious allergic reaction. Either way, the eye appears red or pink due to inflammation of the thin membrane covering the inside of eyelids and white part of the eye. The eye tears, emits a discharge or both, and the condition is generally itchy and uncomfortable.
Children with contagious pink eye need to stay home from school or return home to avoid infecting others. The condition usually resolves itself within three to seven days. Once the tearing and discharge has stopped, the child can return to school.
Strabismus happens when the eye point in different directions all the time, or sporadically. It may be present at birth or appear later. Either way, the vision in the affected eye will not develop normally and the child will not outgrow the condition.
Treatment is aimed at establishing sound vision and coordination in both eyes as well as improving appearance. The earlier treatment commences, the more effective it will be.
Treatment options include:
- A combination of the above
PREVENTION IS BETTER THAN CURE: The importance of routine checks
Routine medical exams for kids include the following:
- Newborns should be checked for general eye health by a paediatrician or family physician in the hospital nursery.
- High-risk newborns (including premature infants), children with a family history of eye problems and those with obvious eye irregularities should be examined by an eye specialist.
- In the first year of life, all infants should be routinely screened for eye health during check-ups with their paediatrician or family doctor.
- Around age three and a half, kids should have eye health screenings and visual acuity tests (tests measuring sharpness of vision) with their paediatrician or family doctor.
- Around age five, kids should have their vision and eye alignment checked by their paediatrician or family doctor. If any of these tests are failed, an eye specialist should be consulted.
- After age five, routine screenings should be done regularly, especially if symptoms such as squinting and frequent headaches occur.
- Kids who wear prescription glasses or contact lenses should have annual check-ups with an eye doctor to monitor vision changes.
When to an eye specialist as a matter of urgency
Signs that a child may have vision problems include:
- Constant eye rubbing
- Extreme light sensitivity
- Poor focussing
- Poor visual tracking (following an object)
- Abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after six months of age)
- Chronic redness or tearing of the eyes
- A white instead of a black pupil
Further symptoms in school age children include:
- Being unable to see objects at a distance
- Having trouble reading the blackboard
- Difficulty reading
- Sitting too close to the TV