We all only get one pair of eyes and as vision is important for so many aspects of life, it’s essential to protect your children’s eyesight and ensure that defects in their vision are detected early and corrections put in place, so as not to disadvantage them in the future. While eye care can appear expensive, there are a few opportunities available to provide a helping hand with costs.
Signs that might indicate vision problems in your child
There are certain telltale signs that your child might be struggling with their sight. Problems to look out for in your baby include squinting, rubbing their eyes frequently, being unable to follow an object moved in front of them, often tilting their head when looking at things or their eyes turn in or out. In older children signs that all might not be well with their vision can include headaches, complaining of blurred vision, difficulty with reading and writing, struggling to concentrate or they aren’t meeting their potential at school. If any of these look familiar, it is a sign that your child needs a full vision exam, but any child could also benefit from this.
Professional identification of vision problems in your child
One in ten children is at risk of sight problems that have not been diagnosed, but only 13% of mothers questioned had taken their children aged under two for a vision check-up. Assessment of eye health and vision between the ages of six to twelve months is the best way to detect eye conditions early to ensure any preventative steps or corrections can be put in place to allow your baby to progress and develop successfully. Although paediatricians provide a basic eye exam, optometrists are able to carry out a much more detailed assessment to detect a wider range of eye conditions.
InfantSEE is a public health initiative, which has been available since 2005. Through InfantSEE optometrists provide a thorough assessment of your baby’s eyes and vision during their first year. An InfantSEE examination can pick up conditions such as amblyopia – commonly known as “lazy eye”, where the weaker eye does not develop as it should – and strabismus – where both eyes are unable to focus on the same object – both of which can be easily corrected if detected early. This program is available to all babies irrespective of your family’s income or what health insurance cover you have.
Eye problems in school-age children can delay reading and they are less likely to perform as well at school as they could. Almost a quarter of school-age children have vision problems, but only 22% of children have received vision screening before starting school. The American Optometric Association advises that even children who aren’t showing symptoms of eye problems should receive a full eye exam at three years of age, then another before they start first grade, repeated every two years after that. Although many schools do provide screening of vision free of charge, requirement for screening varies between states – only 31 require vision screening be performed in schools at present. If your child’s school does not currently provide a vision screening programme, get together with other parents to highlight your concerns regarding this to the school; the American Optometric Association can help schools who would like to start offering screening to their students. Helen Keller International – an organization dedicated to reducing blindness around the world – has a program within the United States known as Childsight. This provides a service which travels round public schools in both urban and rural areas, where poverty and limited access to services is prohibitive to identifying and correcting the problems of short and long sight and astigmatism. Vision screening, corrective glasses and any onward referrals are all free of charge; depending on where you live, your children may be able to benefit from this through their school.
How you can protect your children’s sight
Apart from ensuring they receive a regular eye exam, the following can help keep your children’s vision healthy.
* Encourage a balanced diet, as particular nutrients are known to benefit eye health. Healthy eating doesn’t have to be expensive, as many of the following eye friendly foods are cheap and readily available; remember to take advantage of special offers and coupons too. Vitamin E is thought to protect cells in the eye from damage and one of its richest sources is in everyday sunflower spread and oil. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in eye development and mainly come from oily fish such as sardines, salmon and mackerel; they don’t have to be fresh, the tinned versions are cheaper and just as good. Vitamin C is another vitamin that can protect the eye from damage and is found in the largest amounts in citrus fruit, green vegetables and berries; the latter two are cheaper when bought frozen and can actually have a higher Vitamin C content, as the vitamin is locked in on freezing. Lutein and Zeaxanthin are two protective vitamins, which give green, yellow and orange fruit and vegetables their colour; again choose frozen versions if you are unable to get them fresh.
* Provide your children with sunglasses to wear when spending time outside during the summer. Ensure the sunglasses have a UV coating to protect their eyes from damaging rays, as their eyes are more susceptible to UV light than adults are.
* Provide sufficient light when they read to prevent eye strain.
* Limit your children’s screen time (TV, videogames and computer use) to less than two hours a day, as during these activities they don’t blink as much, which causes drying of the eyes and tiredness. The repeated eye movements when playing computer games can also cause eye problems. Their general health will also improve if they spend fewer hours sat down each week; your electricity bills will benefit too.