August is Children's Eye Health and Safety Month
By Neil B. Zusman, M.D., FACS, Zusman Eye Care Center
August is Children's Eye Health and Safety Month. As kids head back to school soon, ophthalmologists are reminding parents about the importance of maintaining healthy vision in helping children achieve educational success.
Whether kids are reading books, viewing whiteboards, using iPads or playing sports, ensuring their eyes are functioning and growing normally is key to their development and overall well-being.
The vision system is continuing to develop in babies and young children. Therefore, early detection of treatable eye disease in infancy and childhood can have far-reaching implications for vision and, in some cases, for general health. In fact, if left untreated in children, certain eye conditions cannot be corrected later in life and may lead to permanent vision loss.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has issued five top tips for parents to follow to ensure healthy vision of school-aged children:
1) Get a child's vision screened early and regularly. The AAO recommends that children receive vision screenings when they are newborns, between the ages of six months to one year and between the ages of three and three-and-a-half. Upon entering school, or whenever a problem is suspected, children's eyes should again be screened for visual acuity and alignment. Vision screening can be performed by a pediatrician, family physician, nurse or technician at regular office visits.
2) Research your family history of childhood eye disease or impairment. Find out if your family has any history of pediatric eye conditions, which could put your child at increased risk for the same impairment. The most common vision problems among children and adults that are genetically determined include strabismus (crossed-eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye), and refraction errors such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism. Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are also hereditary. If you find a history of these conditions, ensure your child is seen by an eye care provider.
3) Look out for symptoms of eye problems, which may include:
- White or grayish-white color in the pupil
- An eye that flutters rapidly from side to side or up and down
- Sensitivity to light
- Complaints of eye pain, itchiness or discomfort
- Continued redness
- Pus or crust
- Drooping eyelid(s)
- Bulging eye(s)
- Eyes that look crossed, turn out or in or don't focus together
- Squinting eyes or closing one eye
- Holding things very close to read
- Tilting or turning of the head to read
- Headaches after or during reading
- Difficulty completing assignments
4) Comply with treatment. If your child is found to have an eye condition, encourage them to comply with their treatment while at school. Strabismus and amblyopia are conditions that will not correct naturally. However, early treatment can be highly effective and may include wearing an eye patch, eyeglasses, eyedrops, surgery or a combination of these methods. Patching of the stronger eye helps strengthen the weaker eye by forcing it to be used. If untreated, amblyopia can cause irreversible visual loss. The earlier the diagnosis, the most effective is the treatment.
5) Wear protective eyewear. Ensure your child wears protective eye wear during sports. Eye injuries are a leading cause of blindness in children in the United States and can increase a person's risk of developing eye disease later in life. One-third of sports eye injuries involve children. Children should wear protective eye wear for racket sports, hockey, baseball and basketball.
Since the great majority of learning is done through the eyes, it is important to keep track of a child's eye and vision health, as poor vision can negatively impact one's ability to advance in school.
This year, make sure you're giving your child the best chance to excel both in and out of the classroom — make sure to schedule his or her comprehensive eye exam.