By Monica Guthrie
A few months after my son’s first birthday, my husband and I had some concerns about his eyes and vision because one eye appeared to not be centered. We took him to a specialist who ran some tests and came up with nothing. We were told to keep an eye on it (get it?) but we haven’t had any issues since.
But, being a mom, I can’t help but wonder if there is a problem going undetected. So I asked my friend Dr. Brett Wagner, an optometrist, some of my most pressing questions.
What age should children begin having their eyes checked?
Dr. Wagner referenced the American Optometric Association which recommends children younger than 2 have their eyes examined at 6 months or as recommended. Children 2 to 5 years old should have their eyes examined at age 3 (or as recommended) and children 6 to 18 years old should have their eyes checked annually (or as recommended). Of course, this is just a basic recommendation and parents should consult their doctor to see if they need more frequent examinations.
Why should children have their eyes checked at all?
“It can be difficult for children, especially young ones, to communicate that they are having vision problem,” said Dr. Wagner. “A child who is not seeing clearly may not say anything because, for them, blurry vision is normal - it’s what they’re used to if they’ve never worn correction. The optometrist has objective ways of determining if a child needs glasses. The optometrist also evaluates overall eye health.”
What is overall eye health?
“Typically when people think about going to the eye doctor they're thinking about ‘which is better 1 or 2?’ This part, called the refraction, is just one aspect of the eye exam,” said Dr. Wagner. “For instance, it is important to check the eye pressure to evaluate for something called glaucoma, a disease that can often only be detected during an eye exam. It is important to evaluate the macula to identify things like macular degeneration, which can have a significant impact on one's central vision.”
What should parents be on the lookout for?
Dr. Wagner said there are a few things parents can be aware of that can help detect potential eye problems.
- Leukocoria – a white reflection seen on the pupil when you take a photo. It could be an indication of eye disease such as retinoblastoma (a cancer that starts in the retina – and the most common type of eye cancer in children according to org) or retinopathy of prematurity (damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, according to the mayoclinic.org).
- An eye that is constantly turned in or out, or intermittently after three to four month.
- Squinting or getting very close to the TV could also be an indication of blurred vision
What can parents do to improve their children’s eye health/sight?
“Follow recommendations for routine eye exams,” said Dr. Wagner. “Wear sunglasses outdoors. Make sure cleaning supplies and other like chemicals are stored in an area inaccessible to children (…) Chemicals and cleaning supplies can be extremely damaging to the surface of the eye. A chemical that is a base, such as bleach or drain cleaners, often cause more damage to the eye than an acidic chemical, like a toilet bowl cleaner. A recent study showed that children ages 1 to 2 are in the highest risk category for ocular chemical burns (…) It is extremely important to ensure cleaners are kept out of reach or behind child-proof cabinets. If any type of cleaner ever gets in the eye, the eye should immediately be flushed and the child taken to a facility capable of measuring pH levels in the eye.”
What’s the point?
Most parents don’t wait until their child is sick or has a toothache to take their child to the pediatrician or dentist for the first time – so don’t wait until your child has eye problems before visiting an eye doctor. As Dr. Wagner said, for some children their blurred vision is normal to them, they may not know they have a problem until they are older. Don’t wait for your child to realize they have a problem. Be proactive and you may be able to get a head start on preventable eye problems.
After talking with Dr. Wagner I've been more intentional about protecting my children's eyes (and frankly, protecting my own eyes as well). "Price is not always a predictor of if they block the wave lengths of light," said Dr. Wagner. "The important thing on sunglasses is that they block UVA and UVB. It is important to check the label to confirm that the sunglasses block 100 percent of UVA and UVB."
Monica K. Guthrie is an Army brat, an Army veteran (Rock of the Marne!) and now an Army spouse with two boys. She is currently the media relations officer for the public affairs office at Fort Sill, Okla., and writes a weekly column called the Okie Bucket List. She also has a photography and graphic design business, Pro Deo Creations, that she maintains between potty training and kissing scraped knees.
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