Your child’s eye health is just as important as every other part of him. Some eye conditions are treatable while young, but irreversible once a child reaches his teen years.

Only 2 percent of parents would wait for symptoms before taking their child to the pediatrician or dentist for the first time. Yet 24% of parents expect their child to have symptoms before visiting an eye doctor.

One in four children has an eye problem that can interfere with learning and behavior. Sixty percent of students identified as “problem learners” have undetected vision problems. That’s why it’s important to get regular eye exams for your children even if they don’t complain about things looking fuzzy. If your child plays sports, you have even more reason to get regular checkups.

August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. Let’s take a look at all things eyes.

The First Eye Examchild eye health
Your child’s first eye exam will take place at the pediatrician’s office, unless your doctor refers your child to an ophthalmologist. The first exam will take place as an infant, with a recheck sometime between six months and 1 year old. Your pediatrician will again check your child’s eyes around age 3, examining vision and eye alignment.

Later Exams
Once your child is old enough to read an eye chart, he should be tested to make sure he can focus at far, middle and near distances. Most of the time, children are slightly farsighted, but will not require glasses. Once a child starts school, he should be screened every two years by a pediatrician, school nurse, or ophthalmologist. A screening is a basic check, and many schools perform these tests each year. If your child shows any eye trouble, he will be referred to an ophthalmologist for a full vision exam. If your child requires vision correction, he will need an annual eye exam.

Signs Your Child Has Vision Problems
Watch your child’s eyes as she focuses to make sure they align normally. If they turn inward or if your child appears to have a lazy eye (amblyopia), make an appointment with an eye doctor. Such problems are more easily corrected if they are addressed early.

Some children don’t realize they are having eye trouble. Watch for squinting, headaches, or complaints. Some less obvious signs include:

  • A short attention span for activities
  • Losing his/her place while reading
  • Avoiding reading, drawing, or other activities that require up close sight
  • Turning his/her head to the side to see better. (In cases of astigmatism, this makes it easier for them to focus.)

If you wear glasses or contacts, your child has a greater chance of requiring vision correction.

Common Childhood Eye Conditions and Diseases
While vision is an important part of how a child learns, the eyes have other problems that may appear during childhood. Here are some of the more common conditions that require an ophthalmologist exam:

  • Amblyopia – As mentioned above, this is more commonly known as “lazy eye.” This refers to an eye that has not developed normal sight and affects two or three out of every 100 people in the U.S. In cases of amblyopia, the eye may always appear misaligned, or may just drift off sometimes. In this cases, the brain shuts down signals to that eye, so the child only uses the better-seeing eye.
  • Ptosis – If you notice a drooping upper eyelid that covers the eye, your child might have ptosis. This can block her vision.
  • "Cloudy" eyes – Children can get cataracts, too, as well as other conditions that may cause an eye to appear cloudy.

There are also diseases that may affect the eye. If you notice any of these, contact your pediatrician first and he or she will decide whether further eye care is needed.

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) – You’ve probably experience this at some point. Pink eye is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, but either way, it’s quite contagious. Allergies might also cause pink eye, and that is not contagious. Watch for the red or pink color, extra discharge or tears, and itchy or uncomfortable eyes. In cases of a viral infection, you may see other symptoms such as fever, runny nose, or sore throat. (Help stop the spread of conjunctivitis.)
  • Chalazion – This occurs when a gland in the eyelid becomes clogged. It looks like a small lump on the eyelid. While not caused by infection, seek a doctor’s care to correct it.
  • Stye – Infected eyelash follicles cause red, sore bumps near the edge of the eye known as styes.
  • Cellulitis – This is an infection that requires urgent medical care. Sometimes it’s local to the eyelid, but cellulitis might also be caused by an upper respiratory infection or a general infection related to trauma. In cases of cellulitis, the eye appears red and painfully swollen; it may even swell shut. The eye may appear to be pushed forward or have trouble seeing. Your child may also have a fever.
  • Blocked Tear Duct – If the eye cannot drain tears normally, the blockage may cause an infection. Symptoms include watery eyes or tears running out of the eyes. Some babies are born with this, but the cases usually resolve themselves. Your doctor might also recommend a massage technique to help.

Sports Protection
Different sports require different types of eye protection. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has set standards for each of these, and the equipment you need will be labeled ASTM followed by a combination of numbers and letters such as F803. Here is the list, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology:

  • ASTM F803: Eye protectors for selected sports (racket sports, women's lacrosse [see the U.S. Lacrosse website for more details], field hockey, baseball, basketball);
  • ASTM F513: Eye and face protective equipment for hockey players;
  • ASTM F1776: Eye protectors for use by players of paintball sports;
  • ASTM F1587: Head and face protective equipment for ice hockey goaltenders;
  • ASTM F910: Face guards for youth baseball; and
  • ASTM F659: High-impact resistant eye protective devices for Alpine skiing.

Other Eye Notes
You can prevent many other eye problems and injuries. Here are a few final tips for keeping your child’s eyes safe.

  • Have your child wear sunglasses while outside. The sunglasses should be labeled 100% UV protection to cover both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Be sure your child gets some outdoor play regularly while young, which helps develop his/her eyes.
  • Keep all fireworks away from your children. Bottle rockets, especially, which have been banned in many states, have caused a lot of eye injuries.
  • Teach your children to protect their eyes by wearing safety glasses or goggles for activities such as lawn mowing and household repairs.
  • Only use age-appropriate toys and avoid projectile toys, BB guns, and pellet rifles.

If you have questions about your child’s eyes or vision, contact your Generations Family Practice pediatrician today.