Children’s eye care should begin at a very early age, whether they have a family history of vision problems or not. Opthalmologists recommend having your child’s eyes tested at six months of age, again at three years, and then again before they start primary school.

Signs of vision problems

Children may not be aware that they have a vision problem, so it can often go undiagnosed, unless their vision is tested at an early age. Signs of possible vision problems include:

  • Reluctance to attend school
  • Poor academic performance
  • Difficulty reading and writing
  • Complaining of headaches.

Common problems

There is a range of eye problems children can experience, including:

  • Short-sightedness (myopia) — poor distance vision, usually corrected with glasses.
  • Long-sightedness (hyperopia) — poor close vision, also treated with corrective lenses.
  • Astigmatism — abnormal curvature of the eye lens or cornea, which can be corrected with glasses.
  • Cross eyes (strabismus) — where one eye is misaligned and does not focus on objects like the other. It can be corrected by patching the good eye, thus forcing the misaligned eye to work harder, or with corrective lenses or surgery.
  • Lazy eye (amblyopia) — usually develops before the age of six, where the vision in one eye is weaker than the other. Unless corrected, it can become a permanent weakness.

Vision testing

A normal eye test performed by an eyecare professional will generally include:

  • An examination of the eye, including the pupils, eye muscle movements and the back of the eye, using an opthalmoscope
  • An examination of the cornea using a small flashlight to determine if the reflected light is in sharp focus and centred on both pupils
  • A test for misalignment of the eyes by covering them one at a time and looking for any abnormalities in eye movement
  • An eye chart test to determine how well a child is seeing and whether both eyes have the same vision strength.

Corrective measures

Many vision problems can be corrected with prescription lenses, and if a vision problem is detected in your child, your eye care professional may recommend they wear glasses. If this is the case, you should opt for impact-resistant plastic frames to reduce the likelihood of injury, particularly in younger children.

Older children should be allowed to choose their own frames where possible, as they are at an age where self-image is becoming important. Teens with vision problems will more than likely want to wear contact lenses rather than glasses, and this is quite okay, as long as they are old enough to understand the responsibility of caring for their eyes. Using contact lenses requires hygienic practices to prevent infection or eye damage, and this would need to be emphasised to a child wishing to wear contacts rather than glasses.

Modern eye care has come a long way in a few short years, and a child with vision problems has a good chance of being able to lead a normal life with the range of corrective measures now available. The important thing is to have their eyes tested at an early age, so that if there is a problem with their vision, it can be diagnosed and addressed before it can lead to permanent impairment.