A child’s vision plays an important role in their overall development. Surprisingly, over one in five preschool-age children enrolled in Head Start have a vision disorder. So getting ahead of vision problems at a young age is extremely important. We asked Mitchell Strominger, MD, an ophthalmologist with Renown Health, who specializes in pediatric ophthalmology and neuro-ophthalmology, about keeping our kids’ vision healthy.
Why is it important for my child to get regular eye exams?
If your child has uncorrected vision problems it can not only affect their physical health, but also their ability to be social and their academics. Vision issues may also continue to affect them into adulthood.
What eye exam schedule is appropriate for children?
“Children should have vision screening done by their pediatrician or by the school nurse. This should be done at all well child visits as well as in preschool, entering kindergarten and specific grades according to the school district guidelines,” responds Dr. Strominger. “If the child fails the screening, has a family history of eye disorders, their eyes do not seem to track well or there is eye crossing, then they should have a full examination including dilation to view the retina, by a pediatric eye care provider.”
What is lazy eye (amblyopia)?
“Lazy eye is when one of the eyes does not see well because of a problem with the development of the vision centers in the brain. Since the brain vision centers develop up until age seven it is very important to begin treatment early,” answers Dr. Strominger.
“Lazy eye can be caused by misalignment of the eye, asymmetric eye size requiring glasses, or a vision problem with how the light is transmitted in the eye such as a cataract, optic nerve or retinal abnormality. Treatments are individualized but include glasses, patching, or surgical realignment of the eyes. Lazy eye reatment is most successful when started before age seven. If left untreated, or treated too late, it can lead to permanent vision loss in one or both eyes,” he states.
Any tips on avoiding vision problems other than regular exams?
“Yes, avoid ultraviolet (UV) light. Long term UV light can lead to earlier development of cataracts and retinal degeneration,” warns Dr. Strominger. “In a sunny high-altitude climate like northern Nevada, encourage your child to wear sunglasses with UV protection or a wide brimmed hat.”
What about the blue light from cell phones and computers?
According to a recent study, a child’s eye absorbs more blue light from digital screens than an adult’s. Screens from personal devices can also delay sleep, especially when used before bedtime. Consequently this can cause sleep problems, affecting your child’s learning, growth and mental health.
Dr. Strominger urges parents to limit screen time to protect your child’s eyes. The national sleep foundations also suggests parents to keep TVs, computers and smart phones out of a child’s bedroom. Extended use of personal devices has also been shown to cause symptoms of dry eyes, blurred vision and headaches.
What if my child gets something in their eye or gets hit in the eye?
“If your child gets an unknown liquid in their eye, flush it immediately with a saline rinse (or water). Bring the child to the emergency room and bring the bottle (of liquid) with you. This way the emergency room can check on the type of liquid that got in the eye. Bleach is especially bad as it can cause permanent scarring and blindness,” says Dr. Strominger.
“If your child gets hit in the eye the biggest concern is if the child has severe pain, bleeding, and a change in vision. Inflammation or bleeding in the front of the eye causes photophobia (pain with light) as well as blurred vision,” cautions the doctor. “Damage to the retina might not be painful, but it causes reduced vision, and seeing funny shadows, or bright lights. If your child has any of these symptoms it is imperative that they have an emergency examination.”