Eye care tips
Your child's eyes are precious and irreplaceable. As a parent, you play an important role in recognizing eye problems, as well as in preventing injury to your child's eyes.
A baby's first eye exam should be done shortly after birth, before going home from the hospital.
Your child's physician should check to be sure the baby's cornea and lens are clear. An infant born with cataracts (an opacity of the lens, which impairs vision) needs attention right away. The physician also will look for signs of infection or malformations of the eye or eyelids.
The next eye exam should take place at the baby's 3-month checkup. At this age, an infant should be able to look directly at things and follow a moving toy or light.
During the first four months after birth, look for any significant redness, watering or drainage from the eyes. These symptoms in an infant can indicate the presence of a serious disease and require medical treatment to prevent eye damage.
Daily tearing beginning shortly after birth with a "wet look" to the eye often signifies a blocked tear duct. Although ducts usually open up by themselves, a pediatrician should be seen for treatment advice. Surgery may be needed if the duct blockage continues.
Additional exams should be given at 6 months of age and again at the 1-year checkup. The physician should make sure the child seems to see with each eye, that the eyes are straight and free of cataracts.
Any time a problem is detected with a child's eyes, the child should be taken to an ophthalmologist, preferably one who specializes in children's eye care. Failure to find and correct eye problems in preschoolers often results in permanent loss of vision.
The next formal screening is done as a child enters kindergarten. If it is done well, school screening is very valuable.
Crossed eyes and cataracts can be treated if picked up in a timely fashion.
Eye muscle problems must be treated before the age of 6, or the child may have limited vision in one eye. (Even though the eye works, the brain blocks out the image to avoid double vision.) Although older children can be treated (the good eye is patched, so the "lazy" eye has to work), the older the child is the less chance there is for success.
Other signs of vision trouble in young children include:
- Excessive clumsiness
- Watery, red-rimmed eyelids
- Tilted head (to compensate for an eye muscle problem)
- Headaches (due to eye muscle problems)
- Rubbing, blinking or squinting the eyes or covering one eye to look at faraway objects
- Holding objects abnormally close
Nearsightedness often develops around age 10 or 11. Although it is crucial for a child to be able to see words and numbers on the chalkboard, failure to correct this problem will not cause any damage.
Because babies and young children have no way of knowing if they have vision problems, parents, teachers and doctors must be alert to the potential for them.
Your physician may refer you to the Eye Clinic if your child requires specialty care.