When a new baby arrives it is a time of celebration and excitement. The first things new moms and dads want to know are…is everything okay, does he (or she) have all her fingers and toes?… who does he or she look like?…and by that time they usually have fallen totally in love with this amazing, incredible and endearing little person, who by merely being born has changed their lives forever. But just as important as fingers and toes, are those bright little eyes that as yet are struggling to focus. Starting from the moment of birth, eye health should be an important part of an infant’s and later a young child’s regular schedule of care, along with visits to the pediatrician.
When and how should vision screening be done?
Since good vision is an integral part of a child’s physical development, success in school and overall wellbeing, it is important to make sure his or her vision is checked when they are first born, during infancy, preschool and school years. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommend that children receive eye exams at the following ages or developmental stages:
Newborn. An ophthalmologist, pediatrician, family doctor or other trained health professional should examine a newborn baby’s eyes and perform a red reflex test (a basic indicator that the eyes are normal). An ophthalmologist should perform a comprehensive exam if the baby is premature or at high risk for medical problems for other reasons, has signs of abnormalities, or has a family history of serious vision disorders in childhood.
Infant. A second screening for eye health should be done by an ophthalmologist, pediatrician, family doctor or other trained health professional at a well-baby exam between six months and the first birthday.
Preschooler. Between the ages of 3 and 3½, a child’s vision and eye alignment should be assessed by a pediatrician, family doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist or person trained in vision assessment of preschool children.
School age. Upon entering school, or whenever a problem is suspected, a child’s eyes should be screened for visual acuity and alignment by a pediatrician, family doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist or person trained in vision assessment of school-aged children, such as a school nurse. Nearsightedness (myopia) is the most common refractive error in this age group and can be corrected with eyeglasses. If an alignment problem or other eye health issues are suspected, the child should have a comprehensive exam by an ophthalmologist.
What are signs your child may have a vision problem?
Parents should be on the lookout for any indication a child is having trouble seeing well. Your child may not realize his vision is not as good as it could or should be, so it is up to you to look for symptoms of a problem, such as:
• Constant eye rubbing
• Extreme light sensitivity
• Poor focusing
• Poor visual tracking (following an object)
• Abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after 6 months of age)
• Chronic redness of the eyes
• Chronic tearing of the eyes
• A white pupil instead of black
In school-age children, watch for other signs such as:
• Inability to see objects at a distance
• Inability to read the blackboard
• Difficulty reading
• Sitting too close to the TV
Nutrition and eye health
When it comes healthy eyes, good nutrition plays an important role, not only for kids but for adults as well. Everybody knows that eating right is the way to keep your heart healthy. The good news is that the same diet that helps your heart is probably also good for your eyes. A diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can pay benefits not only to your heart, but also to your eyes. The connection isn’t surprising: your eyes rely on tiny arteries for oxygen and nutrients, just as the heart relies on much larger arteries. Keeping those arteries healthy will help your eyes.
Some super foods for eye health are kale, oranges, black-eyed peas and salmon; but there are lots of other great food choices to keep your eyes healthy. Among them, the one most people think of first: carrots. Carrots are high in beta-carotene, a nutrient that helps with night vision, as are other orange-colored fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, apricots and cantaloupe. Making them a part of a colorful diet can help you keep your eyes healthy.
What you should know about eye protection and eye injury prevention
When children participate in sports, recreation, crafts or home projects, it’s important for them to know eye safety practices and use protective glasses as appropriate. Each year thousands of children sustain eye damage or even blindness from accidents at home and at play. More than 90 percent of all eye injuries can be prevented through use of suitable protective eyewear.
Here are just a few of the ways you can protect your child’s precious vision by preventing injuries:
• Parents and others who provide care and supervision for children need to practice safe use of common items that can cause serious eye injury, such as paper clips, pencils, scissors, bungee cords, wire coat hangers and rubber bands.
• Teach your children to be “eye smart” by safeguarding your own sight with ANSI-approved protective eyewear during potentially hazardous work and play.
• Use safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs. Pad or cushion sharp corners. Put locks on all cabinets and drawers that kids can reach.
• Only purchase age-appropriate toys.
• Avoid projectile toys such as darts, bows and arrows, and missile-firing toys.
• Look for toys marked with “ASTM”, which means the product meets the national safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials.
• Remember the warning from the classic movie A Christmas Story, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” Don’t allow your children to play with non-powder rifles, pellet guns or BB guns. They are extremely dangerous and since the days of “Ralphie” have been reclassified as firearms and removed from toy departments.
Sources: The American Academy of Ophthalmology and KidsHealth.org