Does your child constantly complain of eye strain, skip lines when reading or have difficulty with handwriting? Chances are, he has a vision problem. Eyesight troubles occur pretty frequently among youngsters and, in some cases, can occur even before they start school. So what are the most common issues? And what should parents be looking out for? Keith Wilken, senior orthoptist at the Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai in Healthcare City answers our questions.
Why should children get their eyes tested?
A child’s eyesight does not fully develop until the age of nine, but the earlier a problem is noticed, the better. It is still possible to treat a condition like amblyopia or ‘lazy eye’ [that can lead to permanent vision loss], at age seven or eight, but it is far more difficult than if it’s treated at age two or three. Then there’s a better chance of complete recovery.
What are some common vision problems and how are they treated?
Around 25 per cent of school-age children have some sort of vision problem. Many are associated with refractive errors (which basically means they need glasses) and include long or short sightedness and astigmatism, which occurs when the cornea is shaped more like a rugby ball than a football. A difference in the refractive power between the eyes can often cause a ‘lazy eye’ which may go undetected by parents. Problems such as strabismus or ‘squint’, are not uncommon either. If caught early on, these can be treated with glasses or patches and eye drops to make the weak eye focus and strengthen the eye muscle. Eye muscle therapy can be used in some cases. Cataracts, caused by opacity on the lens, are rare in kids but are typically treated with surgery.
How early should my child’s eyesight be tested?
Early vision screening is very important. Your child’s vision should be tested by the age of three or four. Most pediatricians usually test children’s eyesight as part of a routine exam. If your pediatrician doesn’t, be sure to ask them and there is no reason why they would refuse. Nursery schools should also check your child’s eyesight and will notify parents if they suspect anything.
What are the signs of an eye problem?
The most common symptom of an eyesight problem is when your child’s eyes are not straight or do not focus properly. Children tend to sit close to the TV or hold their faces close to objects and books during activities and reading, but pay attention if your child moves abnormally close to something to see properly. A cause for concern is when the child has one bad eye, or lazy eye, which means the good eye works overtime to compensate for the lack of vision or movement in the other. This is why children benefit from early screening and detection to prevent permanent damage. Parents usually have a feeling when something is not right, and it is always best to trust your instinct.
Are children’s eyes at risk from sun damage?
The human eye is 10 times more sensitive to UV light than human skin. Children’s eyes are at the greatest risk of UV damage because bigger pupils and clearer lenses mean the light passes unimpeded into their eyes, damaging the retina. Without protection, extended UV exposure can lead to eye problems later in life such as age-related macular degeneration, which can lead to blindness, and cataracts that blur vision.
How do I protect my child’s eyes from sun damage?
Simple protection measures such as a brimmed hat or cap, good-quality sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays and a sunshade for prams and pushchairs are surprisingly effective. Most optical shops will have fun shades for children without much actual sun protection, so make sure you buy sunglasses that come with a UV protection sticker. Foam frames are a good option for very young children and you can choose plastic or toughened glass for added durability. It is also be wise to keep kids out of the harsh midday sun.
To make an appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai, contact 04 429 7888 or www.moorfields.ae.
During an eye exam at Moorfields, your child will be examined by an orthoptist and a consultant opthalmologist (a medical eye doctor), who specialises in eye problems and disorders in children. Don’t forget your child’s glasses and remember any relevant medical reports and to inform the orthoptist if your child is on medication. Depending on the tests, an eye exam can take 90 minutes or longer so be prepared to spend several hours at the hospital. The orthoptist will usually use some form of dilating drops to get a clearer view of your child’s eyes. This can blur their vision for a few hours (a perfect excuse for getting out of homework) although the effects usually wear off by the following day. Their eyes also become even more sensitive to sunlight, so carry a pair of sunglasses and a brimmed hat for good measure.