Pediatric eye health might not be the first thing that comes to mind when a new parent brings home their precious gift of insomnia (bundle of joy), but it’s important to remember that good eye health is absolutelycrucial to a child’s development. Every newborn’s eyes should be checked before they leave the hospital by a pediatrician, but how do parents know when there’s a problem before a child can express themselves? At what age should you schedule your child’s first eye exam? What are some signs that your kid might need glasses? Don’t worry, we’ve got all the answers to the questions youdidn’t even know you had in thisout-of-sight parental guide (you can thank me for that pun later).
According to statistics, a whopping 66% of parents don’t find regular eye check-ups necessary, which is alarming, to say the least. The American Optometric Association advises the first eye examination occur around 6-12 months of age, at least once between 3-5 years of age, and annually up through 16 years of age. If your child is “at-risk” due to certain factors (family history, prematurity, or maternal smoking, for example), more frequent examinations may be recommended. Approximately 60% of school-aged children who experience difficulty with reading are literally struggling to see the words on the page, so early intervention is crucial.
According to research, one-half of parents believe that a child only has to visit an eye doctor after displaying symptoms of unhealthy vision. In comparison, only 2 percent of parents would wait for symptoms to take their child to a pediatrician or a dentist. So what gives?! Unfortunately, most parents simply don’t realize how prevalent undetected pediatric vision problems are. Eyes are not only the “windows to the soul, but” they’re also essential to good learning and behavior. The reality is, your kid can’t tell you if they have “good vision” if they’ve never known what good vision looks like! The only way to determine whether or not your child needs vision correction (or early detection of lazy eye, astigmatism, or even cancer) is by taking them to an eye doctor early.
I think most of us know not to pass the baby a set of chopsticks, but there are other (less obvious) ways to protect your child’s eye health that go beyond preventing a bad poke to the eye. Tiny kids always look super cute in sunglasses, but a good pair of UV coated lenses is essential to providing sun protection all year-round. If your child is involved in sports, be sure to provide them with appropriate protective gear at the start of the season. As mentioned earlier, remember to take your child to an eye doctor on a regular basis and not just when they start displaying symptoms. There are many other ways to protect your child’s vision, such as not wearing jorts or hot pants in front of them, so don’t be afraid to think outside-of-the-box.
Providing visual stimulation in the form of safe, age-appropriate toys early in life is always a good idea (just beware of sharp edges). Not only is this beneficial to their eyesight, but it also gives them a break from staring atyour ugly mug the same thing day in and day out. Up until three months of age, a baby cannot focus on anything more than eight to ten inches from their face, so that big “Live, Laugh, Love” poster on their nursery wall just isn’t going to cut it, Karen. Provide toys with bright, stimulating colors, hang a mobile over their crib so they can practice tracking objects, encourage crawling or any movement that requires good hand-eye coordination, and as they get older, throw some puzzles and finger paints at them (just kidding, don’t throw them).
How do you know if your child has a visual impairment? Obviously the only way to know for sure is a visit to the eye doctor, but there are definitely some red flags you can look for at home. Is your child pulling a Grandma and squinting when they look at things, either far away or up close? That might be a sign that they’re struggling to see things clearly. Is your child rubbing their eyes, complaining of headaches, or sitting excessively close to their TV or device? Again, all reasons to visit an eye doctor sooner rather than later. Better safe than sorry.
There are many eye conditions that affect children of all ages, but some of the more common ones include refractive errors (requiring glasses), astigmatism,amblyopia or “lazy eye,” epiphora (blocked tear duct), blurred vision, and strabismus (abnormal eye alignment). More serious eye conditions might include childhood cataracts, glaucoma,retinopathy of prematurity, or retinoblastoma (an eye tumor). Obviously there’s a laundry list of things that could go wrong with your child’s eyes, but don’t panic and take your fears to Google when there’s an optometrist right down the road who can give you peace of mind and aprofessionaldiagnosis.
As children we were told to eat our carrots for good eye health, but there are plenty of other eye-friendly food options out there that won’t give your child a case of the dry heaves. Eggs are high in zinc, fish contains omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (both good for eyes), orange-colored fruit and vegetables are high in beta-carotene, seeds and nuts are high in vitamin E, and dark, leafy greens are packed with vitamins C, E, and the carotenoids lutein and zeaxathin (which lowers the risk for long-term eye diseases). No, Little Debbies aren’t on that list, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a cheat day
Are contact lenses a safe option for children and preteens?
Although many people wait until their child is around 16-years-old, a recent study showed that soft contact lenses might actually be safer in younger children than in teens. Who would have thought, right? The most important thing to consider when putting your child in contact lenses is their ability to follow their doctor’s instructions on how to wear them, how often to wear them, and how to keep them clean to prevent infection. Contact lenses come with a number of benefits, including freedom from glasses (particularly great for children with active lifestyles), and a higher sense of self-esteem in social settings.
Have a question about your child's eye health? Or need to find a trusted pediatric optometrist? Schedule an appointment online today.