Protect Those Peepers!

Protect Those Peepers!

It’s often said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. But in reality, eyes are the windows to knowledge. As kids, they’re how we learn about shapes, colors, letters, numbers—and the limitless ways in which they can be combined in the world around us.

But not every child is graced with perfect vision, and that can lead to difficulties around the home, in the classroom, and on the sports field. What does a parent do then? And how can you determine whether there’s a problem in the first place? Here, we get the lowdown from a Lehigh Valley optometrist.

Common Eye Problems in Kids

“The most common eye problem I see in kids is near-sightedness,” says Steven Eiss, OD, owner of Eyecare of the Valley in Pennsburg and former president of the Pennsylvania Optometric Association. That occurs when you have difficulty seeing things that are at a distance.

Near-sightedness is usually discovered by in-school screenings, but school screenings have limits and easily miss several other eye problems. These include farsightedness (difficulty clearly seeing close-up objects), astigmatism (uneven focusing of light on the retina), and amblyopia (the so-called “lazy eye”), according to Dr. Eiss. All of these can impact a child’s ability to learn.

The good news: These problems can be detected readily during a comprehensive eye exam by an optometrist. “These exams will look at overall eye health,” Dr. Eiss says, “and they’re recommended for children ages one, three, and five, and every two years after that.”

And yes, an eye exam for a one-year-old is more important than you think. At birth, babies’ eyes can focus only close-up and can see only high-contrast hues. But at six months, their power of vision sharpens. And any undetected problems at this age could affect one or both eyes, perhaps permanently.

“At one year of age, we look for things like retinal blastoma – that’s a cancer of the retina. It’s not common, but it does occur. We can also check for congenital glaucoma, congenital cataracts, or other conditions that might impede the eye’s proper function. These conditions are easier to deal with at younger ages than if they’re found later,” he adds.

By the age of three or four, a child’s eyes have basically stopped developing. Pre-kindergarten exams are a simple way to be sure your child can properly perceive the bombardment of visual information that school delivers via books, smart boards, and tablets.

5 Common Symptoms of Vision Problems

Between regularly scheduled exams, parents can monitor their children for behaviors that could indicate vision difficulties:

• Squinting. Often a sign of nearsightedness or farsightedness.

• Favoring one eye. If your child seems to see better when keeping one eye closed, it may be a sign of a structural problem like astigmatism.

• Getting too close. If your child tends to sit closer to the television than others in the room, nearsightedness may be the reason.

• Losing one’s place while reading. Does your child skip lines or lose her place entirely? This can be a sign of an eye muscle problem, or perhaps astigmatism.

• Frequent headaches. Frontal headaches can come from a farsighted child’s struggle to clear up uncorrected blurry vision.

“Some other indicators can be trickier to spot,” Dr. Eiss says. “If your child tends to shy away from doing close-up work or reading, it might mean that they can’t see well enough to do the task but don’t understand that it’s not supposed to be that way. Instead, they might just say, I can’t do this!, or avoid reading. And that can prevent them from keeping up with classmates.”

School screenings have limits and easily miss several other eye problems.

Fortunately, these problems can often be corrected with glasses or, in the case of  a ‘lazy eye,’ simple exercises that teach the eye muscles to work better.

Preventing Problems Before They Start

There are proactive steps parents can take to reduce the chances of future eye problems, too. “We know that UV can contribute to cataracts and macular degeneration,” he says. “That’s why sunglasses that offer UVA and UVB protection are a good idea.”

Active children can also benefit from wearing protective sports glasses. “Every few years, I see a child whose eye gets hit by a ball or poked by an elbow, and the result is often retinal detachment or traumatic glaucoma,” says Dr. Eiss. “They’re important, especially if your child is already wearing glasses or contacts. And they’ve become more fashionable, too—they’re not like the ones Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wore.”

We get only one set of “windows” in our lives, so it’s vitally important to care for them properly. “It’s like any other form of healthcare,” says Dr. Eiss. “Early detection and treatment is always better.”

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