Young people’s eye health
needs special care.
Looking After Children's Eye Health
Did You Know? … Almost 1 million children in the UK are believed to have vision problems that haven’t been spotted.
Children’s eyes and vision are precious. Good eyesight helps kids to make sense of the World in their early years. Undiagnosed vision problems can badly affect learning at school, and sometimes lead to problems with behaviour and relationships. And children’s eyesight can change very quickly. So it’s really important to keep a close check on your kids’ eye health. We’ve put some information together here to help you.
Things to Watch Out For
Here are some signs that might indicate your child has a vision problem:
- The eyes not pointing in the same direction
- Headaches or eye strain
- Sensitivity to light
- Problems reading – such as holding books close to their face, using their finger to guide their eyes when reading, and losing their place regularly
- Problems with hand-eye co-ordination – for example, they may struggle to play ball games
- Being unusually clumsy
- Regularly rubbing their eyes
- Sitting very close to the TV or other screens
- Trying to avoid doing things that use close-up vision, such as reading or homework
- Trying to avoid doing things that require long-distance vision, such as sport
If you have concerns, make an appointment with the optician to get your child’s eyes examined.
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Children's Eye Tests
The NHS recommends that children have regular eye tests at least once every two years. These tests can be done at a the opticians and are free for all children under 16 years old (and those under 19 years old in full-time education).
Children do not have to be able to read to have their eyes examined. The optician uses special tests and equipment for kids to see whether the child needs glasses or has another eye health problem.
Glasses and Contact Lenses for Kids
Nowadays there is a fabulous choice of practical and fashionable glasses frames and lenses available designed specifically for children and teenagers. And advances in technology mean that contact lenses are now often an option for even young children. Visit your local optician for advice and to see what is available.
Common Problems Affecting Kids' Eyesight
Here are some of the eye health problems that are common in children.
Short-sightedness is a very common eye condition that causes distant objects to appear blurred, while close objects can be seen clearly. It’s estimated that one in three people in the UK are affected and that the proportion is growing. More information
Amblyopia – also known as “lazy eye” – is a condition that occurs when the vision in one eye does not develop properly. That causes the brain to ignore the visual signals from the weak eye and instead use the other eye to see. Amblyopia is normally corrected with glasses, though sometimes an eye patch has to be worn to force the weaker eye into action. More information
Astigmatism is a common and usually minor eye condition that causes blurred or distorted vision. It occurs when the cornea or lens isn’t a perfectly curved shape. More information
Children's Eye Health At Different Ages
We’ve put together some useful information on the changing eye health needs and issues for different age groups.
The first 12 months
A newborn baby’s eyes are checked within 72 hours of birth for signs of abnormalities, such as congenital cataracts (a cataract is a clouding of the normally clear and transparent lens inside the eye, which can cause blurry or hazy vision). Although serious vision problems during childhood are rare, early testing ensures that any problems are picked up and treated as early as possible.
Your child will usually have their second eye examination when they are six to eight weeks old, carried out by your GP or health visitor. Your child’s vision should also be tested before they start school at around four to five years old.
A child’s vision should develop in the following way over the first year of life:
- Six weeks old: follows a colourful or interesting object, such as a face, with their eyes
- Two to three months old: starts to reach for things they see
- Three to five months old: starts to mimic facial expressions and look at objects more closely
- Six to twelve months old: focuses on objects that are both near and far away, sees simple shapes, scribbles with a crayon and is interested in pictures.
It is really up to the parent to be vigilant when it comes to vision problems in this age group. Signs of a possible problem include:
- Erratic eye movements
- Not turning towards the source of sounds (also a sign of hearing impairment)
- Poking or rubbing their eyes
- Not making eye contact
Your child might have a problem with their vision, such as short sightedness (myopia), long sightedness (hyperopia), a lazy eye (amblyopia) or a squint (where the eyes look in different directions). Retinoblastoma – the most common malignant tumour of the eye in children accounting for three per cent of all childhood cancers – should always be ruled out for all cases of squint in babies and children, using a special test called the red reflex test.
From about 12 months onwards, it is possible to measure and assess your child’s vision more accurately. The young child’s retina continues to develop rapidly until the age of two or three. Thereafter, development slows until its completion at age seven or eight. The key point about screening is to catch any problems before this development is complete to avoid amblyopia, which occurs when the developing retina is not stimulated due to the image not reaching it or ocular misalignment. If you have any concerns about your infant or toddler’s eyes, always speak to your GP who may make a referral to an appropriate eye health professional.
By age three, it is advisable that your child should have a thorough optometric eye examination to make sure his or her vision is developing properly and there is no evidence of eye disease. If needed, your optometrist can prescribe treatment, including glasses and/or vision therapy, to correct a vision development problem. With today’s diagnostic equipment and tests, a child does not have to know the alphabet or how to read to have his or her eyes examined.
It’s also never too early to think about UV protection for your child’s eyes. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can harm your child’s sight and lead to problems in later life, so the earlier you begin protecting their eyes from the sun the better. Make sure your children wear hats and protective glasses when they are out in the sunlight for prolonged periods.
When you child starts school at age four or five, the eyes begin to work much harder; eye muscles strengthen and nerve connections multiply. You can help this process by supplying plenty of visual stimulation for your child – but try to keep hours allowed playing computer games to a minimum to avoid eye strain. The single best way to protect your child’s vision is through regular, professional eye examinations.
Vision screening at school
In some areas of Britain eye screening is carried out by an orthoptist in reception class to look for strabismus (squints) and/or amblyopia (lazy eyes). Strabismus is a condition in which the eyes don’t look in unison at the same object. It is a physical disorder, whereas amblyopia is the visual consequence. Amblyopia and strabismus are most effectively treated when detected early. Treatment includes visual therapy and, often, surgery. Left undetected or untreated, blurry or double vision may be a lasting result.
Eye examinations at the Opticians
It’s important to remember that school vision screening is not the same as a full eye examination with an optometrist, so make sure you take advantage of the free NHS examinations available to all under 16s. Vision changes can occur without your child or you noticing them. Therefore, your child should receive an eye examination at least once every two years and more frequently if specific problems or risk factors exist, or if recommended by your optometrist. The earlier a vision problem is detected and treated, the more likely treatment will be successful. Your optometrist can prescribe treatment including glasses, contact lenses or vision therapy to correct any vision problems.
An annual eye examination should be included for any child being assessed for educational underachievement or learning disability, including dyslexia. If they cannot see the blackboard or the book, they cannot learn. This may even present as a behavioural problem, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Reading difficulties can be part of a wider spectrum of problems and may be associated with refractive errors like long or short sight, eye movement disorders or, as in the majority of children, due to problems unrelated to the eye. Children with dyslexia tend to have an associated writing difficulty.
Coventry based Specs Network optician, Susan Bowers, says:
“By taking your child for a thorough eye examination around the time they begin school, you can be re-assured that educationally your child can see at both distance and near to reach their full potential academically. In Sweden, children have one of the highest levels of academic achievement in the world. It is a statutory requirement there that before the start of every new school year – children must have a certificate of an eye examination.”
Regular eye examinations at this age are important because poor eyesight can affect everything from learning ability and athletic performance to self-esteem. And untreated eye conditions can worsen, leading to more serious problems. A balanced diet can make an important difference in the quality of your child’s eyesight. When meals are rich in vitamins and minerals, they help eyes develop in a healthy way.
Protecting your child’s eyes from UV rays is very important too, so talk to your optometrist about the best sun lenses to suit your child’s needs.
The most common eye problems during teenage years are due to the development and progression of short sight (myopia). If you have problems focusing on things in the distance, you will find it harder to follow lessons in the classroom and you may also find it harder than your friends to do well during after-school sports and activities.
Sitting for hours in front of a computer screen playing games, Facebooking or Tweeting may also stress your eyes because your computer forces your eyes to focus and strain a lot more than during any other task. This can put you at an even greater risk than adults for developing symptoms of ‘computer vision syndrome’, which may lead to the early development of myopia. If you are constantly switching between focusing close-up on your smartphone or kindle and looking up at the TV in the distance, your eyes have to work much, much harder.
Regular eye tests
The best way to protect your young and healthy vision is with regular professional eye examinations with your local optometrist (eye exams are free for all under 16s). You may be at special risk for eye problems if your mum or dad has eye disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or poor vision – so it’s important to answer any questions about this carefully. In between examinations, if you notice a change in your vision or your eye is injured in any way, ask your parents to contact your opticians or do so yourself.
The best way to keep your eyes healthy is to get plenty of rest, and eat foods rich in antioxidants – these are vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage caused by free radicals. You should also take special care when applying make-up and hairspray, and wash your hands often to help keep your eyes free of germs and bacteria that may cause eye infections. This is especially important if you wear contact lenses (see later).
Protection against eye injuries
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that teenagers are in the highest risk category for serious eye injuries, especially when playing racquet sports like tennis or squash. Always wear sports goggles or shields for proper eye protection. Many goggles can actually improve your sports vision whether you need vision correction or not. New technology lenses give you the edge you need by reducing glare, enhancing contrast and substantially reducing exposure to UVA and UVB rays. Your optician can help you to choose the right eye protection for your sports and activities.
Contact lenses for teenagers
Teenage years might be a good time to consider contact lenses. According to the British Contact Lens Association, contact lenses for teens and children have many advantages including:
- Better vision and more convenience for sports and leisure activities
- Improved appearance and social acceptance
- Avoidance of spectacles breakages
- Greater self-confidence, self-esteem and satisfaction
- Full-time vision correction – and they can be easily updated when your eyesight may be changing frequently
- Added protection from ultraviolet (UV) exposure with some lenses.
Another option for correcting myopia without glasses you might consider is a process called ‘orthokeratology’ or ‘ortho-k’. This relatively new technique involves sleeping in special rigid gas permeable contact lenses to change the shape of the cornea overnight, so that you can see without glasses or contact lenses during the day. Young people aged between eight and 12 are also considered to be good candidates, and parents might be interested too. Ask your optometrist about ortho-k when you next see them.