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All in Favor of Kids’ Vision Health—Say “Eye!”

In August, the eyes have it! This is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, dedicated to informing parents about protecting their child’s eyesight from vision-threatening conditions.

Children can be affected by many eye diseases. They can be born with—or may develop—cataracts, glaucoma, retinal and orbital tumors, as well as other issues. More commonly, though, children may need glasses to see more clearly, or need intervention for misaligned eyes or poor visual development.

According to studies from the National Institutes of Health, one in four preschool-aged children may have a vision problem, and even mild problems left untreated can lead to permanent vision loss. In addition, because so much of learning in school is visual, undiagnosed eye problems can result in academic setbacks.

The earlier a problem is detected, the sooner it can be treated.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommend that all newborns receive an exam that includes a red reflex test; infants should undergo a second screening between six and 12 months. Babies who are premature, at high risk for medical problems, have signs of abnormalities, or have a family history of serious vision disorders in childhood should receive a comprehensive exam.

Children should be screened again at 3 to 3 1/3 years of age, and by school age regular eye exams should be performed.  

Experts at Wills Eye Hospital recommend seeking immediate care from a pediatric ophthalmologist if your child exhibits the following symptoms:

  • Squinting or covering one eye
  • Rubbing eyes excessively
  • Closing one eye or tilting head while reading or watching TV
  • Sitting too close to electronic screens or holding books closer than normal
  • Complaints of light sensitivity, blurry or double vision, headaches, tired eyes
  • Difficulty in school, especially with reading and writing
  • Pain in or around the eye
  • Eyes that do not appear to look in the same direction
  • Eyes that shake or vibrate
  • Inability to identify things across the room or farther away
  • Discharge from eyes
  • Droopy eyelids
  • A white pupil in one or both eyes
  • Eyes tearing or wet-looking, when not crying
  • Any swelling or lump in or around the eyes or eyelids
  • Any difference in size, shape or color of any part of the eye or eyelids
  • Redness of the eye

To help keep your child’s eyes healthy:

  • Delay/limit digital equipment: Eye strain from digital equipment and electronic screens can cause a myriad of eye problems. Delay exposure to televisions, computers, mobile phones, and video games as long as possible; once the use has begun, limit the amount of time spent on the devices.
  • Send the kids outside: Playing outdoors instead of being stuck to the TV or computer has several benefits. First, it provides a break from digital eye strain. Second, exposure to different objects and colors in natural light helps kids develop and exercise their visual senses. NOTE: Make sure they wear sunglasses with UV protection, as UV exposure can lead to eye damage.
  • Schedule check-ups: Take your child to see an eye doctor regularly; school eye tests may not be thorough enough to catch problems when they occur.
  • Make a feast for the eyes: What goes in the mouth affects the eyes, so feed your kids a healthy diet. A balanced diet also prevents obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, which can affect eye health.
  • Practice eye safety: Eye injuries are the leading cause of vision loss in children in America. There are about 42,000 sports-related eye injuries every year, with children the most affected. All children should wear protective eyewear while participating in sports or recreational activities. In addition, purchase age-appropriate toys for your children and avoid those with sharp or protruding parts.