Children and eye health care

Every single eye is different. It’s why retinal scanners are so good at identifying you from the crowd.

But your eyes are so unique they’re also different from each other. Just take a moment to look in the mirror at each iris, the coloured part of your eye that controls the amount of light that hits your retina.

No doubt you’ll see small, random patterns in one iris that appear completely different from the other. Even identical twins don’t share the same iris patterns and swirls.

Just as all our eyes and irises are different, we equally all have different eye health needs. This is particularly true for different age groups—from octogenarians and septuagenarians to middle-age folks, adults, teenagers, children, toddlers, and little bouncing babies.

Younger people, in particular, need specific and special attention given to eye care. Many eye conditions, like amblyopia, can be treated if caught early, yet may become irreversible when a child is older. These younger years when your eyes are still developing—contrary to the myth, your eyes continue to grow until about age 16—are thus crucial to your long term eye health and vision quality.

What’s more, our eyes are a crucial part of the way we experience and understand the world. It is thought that around 80 percent of all learning occurs visually.

There is much general advice out there for how you can best care for young eyes. Resources like the Department of Health recommend a child’s vision should be screened between four and five years old. Not to mention the NHS offers free eye tests at opticians for those who’re under 16 and those under 19 who’re in full-time education.

Healthy eyes and vision are a critical part of a child’s development. And as many vision problems and eye diseases can be detected and treated early, the best advice by far is to have regular examinations.

With that now said, we’re going to take a look at some common eye problems in children, as well as how you can spot them, and who you should go to see to get them sorted.

Common eye problems in children

There are several common eye conditions that can affect children. Thankfully, today most can be easily picked up with a comprehensive eye exam during the preschool years.

By no means an exhaustive list, here are some of the conditions to look out for:

  • Refractive errors: Refractive errors is the term for when the shape of the eye doesn’t refract (bend) light properly, causing difficulty in seeing at certain distances or images to appear blurred. The most common—in all group groups—are shortsightedness, longsightedness, and astigmatism.
  • Amblyopia: Amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye, is the term given to poor vision in an eye that can appear to be normal. Two common causes are a difference in the refractive errors between the eyes and cross eyes. Amblyopia is best treated as early as possible as, if left untreated, the brain can begin to ignore signals from the affected eye.
  • Strabismus: Strabismus is when one eye turns in, out, up, down, or the eyes are otherwise misaligned from each other. Amblyopia may develop if the eye is chronically misaligned. Patching the properly aligned eye, if done early, can force the misaligned one to work and restore proper vision.

The above eye conditions are common and routinely treated. Other eye conditions, such as retinopathy of prematurity, may require more serious and immediate attention.

Such conditions that require more care may be related to genetics or your family history. An eye doctor should make you aware of anything that could be a risk to your children’s sight. Such eye conditions include:

  • Childhood cataracts: Childhood cataracts, also called infantile cataracts, is a clouding of the eye’s lens that is typically associated with ageing. But some babies are born with the condition and children can also develop them at a young age.
  • Retinoblastoma: Retinoblastoma is a malignant tumour that affects the eyes and usually appears in the first three years of life. It starts in the retina, and it often is characterised by whiteness in the pupil and vision loss in the affected eye or eyes.
  • Congenital glaucoma: Congenital glaucoma is a genetic condition that affects the optic nerve. Glaucoma is more common in adults, but congenital glaucoma only occurs in children. It is caused by high pressure in the eye due to abnormal development and can be treated with medication and surgery.

Spotting eye problems in children

Now you know some of the eye conditions that can occur in children, you need to be aware of some of the signs that can help you spot them.

As mentioned at the top, spotting potential eye problems early and taking your child to see an eye professional is the best thing you can do to safeguard their eye health and long term vision.

Here are some of the main signs to look out for that could indicate an eye condition:

  • Constantly rubbing or itching their eyes
  • Experiencing a sensitivity to light
  • Not being able to focus
  • Poor ability in tracking or following an object
  • Abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes
  • Chronic redness of or around the eyes
  • Constant tearing of the eyes
  • A white or discoloured pupil

These are all signs to look out for in young children. When they get a bit old and enter school, there are some other signs to look out for including:

  • Trouble reading the blackboard
  • Being unable to read or see objects at a distance
  • Squinting and eyestrain
  • Difficulty reading up close
  • Sitting too close to screens

Who to see and what to do about childhood eye problems

If we haven’t driven it home enough already, the main step in vision care for children is making eye checks a regular part of their medical care.

It can be a bit confusing as there are several different kinds of doctors that offer eye care, as well as much advice about who you should see and how often.

To help give you a better idea of who children need to see and how often, we’ve put together some general advice about eye doctors along with specific advice for different age groups:

  • Ophthalmologists: Ophthalmologists are doctors of medicine who specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disorders.
  • Paediatric ophthalmologists: Paediatric ophthalmologists are doctors who have had additional training to diagnose and treat eye diseases, assess visual development, and deliver vision care in children.
  • Optometrists: Optometrists are involved with the examination of the eyes and typically work in prescribing glasses. Some optometrists specialize in children’s’ eye problems.
  • Opticians: Opticians are eye care professionals who fit, adjust, and dispense glasses and contact lenses.

Eye care by age group:

  • Newborn eye care: Newborns should have their general eye health assessed by a paediatrician or family physician in the hospital nursery.
  • High-risk newborns: High-risk newborns include premature infants and those with a family history of eye problems or obvious eye irregularities. Such cases should be examined by a specialist eye doctor.
  • One-year-olds: In the first year of life, all children should routinely have their eyes checked during checkups with their paediatrician or family doctor.
  • Three-to-four-year olds: Around age three and a half, children should have visual acuity and eye health screenings tests. These tests measure the sharpness of vision and may lead to a glasses prescription.
  • Around age five: At this age, children should again have their vision and eye alignment assessed by their paediatrician or family doctor.
  • After age five: Children older than age five should have routine eye exams at school or their doctor’s office. School is often the first sign of refractive errors, and a teacher may notice a child isn’t seeing well in class.
  • Other ages: Following these early stages of development, children of any age who wear have vision problems or not should have annual checkups by an eye doctor and be screened for any changes in their vision.

Find out more about children’s eye care and what treatments may be available by contacting one of our expert eye specialists today.