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HEALTH Children’s eye care

Don’t kid around with your child’s eyes

Áine Higgins

As children develop, 80 per cent of their learning is processed through the eyes. For this reason alone, regular eye tests are vital.
Children have a brief screening at school to assess their distance vision. However, eye-health issues and problems with close work could go undetected.
Good eyesight is particularly important for children. If they have poor vision, they’ll find it difficult to learn at school and play sports. They will also struggle with everyday tasks that involve hand eye coordination. Indeed, clumsiness and poor academic performance generally may be entirely due to a problem with their sight.
Parents should watch out for key signals that indicate vision problems. These include:

  • Rubbing of the eyes
  • Complaining often of headaches
  • Squinting
  • Holding objects unusually close or far away
  • Excessive blinking
  • Favoring one eye by covering it or turning the head
  • They eyes are not aligned or are not working together
  • They eyes are red, swollen or encrusted

Tests for kids
Many parents are reluctant to bring their child along for an eye-test as they think because they can’t understand letters or can’t talk the eye-test would be futile.
Nothing could be further from the truth; tests have been developed using coloured lights and recognizable shapes and figures to the child. Most young children find the experience enjoyable and are fascinated by their new surroundings.

How often?
Chilren’s eyesight can change quite quickly, so they should be tested at least once a year but preferably every six months. The first examination should take place before the child’s first birthday and be followed by regular check ups. That way any problem can be treated well before school starts. A large proportion of squints, for example, develop before the age of three. If your child starts primary or secondary school in September it is of vital importance that they have their eyes tested before they start.

Glasses forever?

If your child is long sighted they may only need the glasses for close tasks, such as reading and computer work. Some children need glasses to control a squint. If your child is short sighted their prescription may increase as they grow, in the majority of cases they will need glasses always for distance, to see the blackboard, say, or to drive. Happily, glasses are now a fashion accessory, and many children’s frames are not only durable and comfortable but stylish and fashionable too.

Contact lenses?
It is rare for a child under 16 to be given lenses, usually only in special circumstances. The main reason for this is that contact lenses require a lot of maintenance and care to prevent eye infections. Occasionally daily disposables are suitable, as they are clean and sterile for every use.
The main thing for a parent to remember is that the earlier an eye problem is detected, the greater the chances of it being corrected. So even if nothing appears to be wrong, make sure your child has regular eye examinations.

Áine Higgins
is an optician based in Mongey Opticians, Castlebar and Ballinrobe. She was the first Irish optician to be nominated for the UK and Ireland Optician of the Year 2010.