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Children’s eye health and safety

  • Published
  • By Capt. Eric Owens
  • 375th Aerospace medicine squadron
It is a good idea to have your child's eyes and vision examined by an eye care professional at least once a year. Scheduling this around your child's birthday is a good way to remember to do it (and is also a birthday gift of sight). Do not wait until your child complains of blurred vision, red eyes, and/or headaches. Also do not rely on the school's vision screening program because that is designed to only detect the more common eye and vision problems (pink eye, nearsightedness, etc.) in asymptomatic children.

Children often do not know how they should be seeing because they assume everyone sees the way they do. Because of this, the American Optometric Association recommends that all children receive a professional eye and vision examination at critical stages in their visual development.

These critical stages are:

· By six months of age

· At 3 years of age

· Before first grade

· At least every year between ages 6 and 18 while they are continuing to grow
By having your child's eyes examined at these critical stages of development, permanent vision loss from amblyopia ("lazy eye") and other pediatric eye diseases can be prevented. But children at any age with signs and/or symptoms of vision problems, like red eyes, tearing eyes, unusual sensitivity to light, eye pain, or squinting should be examined as soon as possible.

Parents often ask how very young patients can be examined. Fortunately, there are many new instruments available today to objectively (i.e., no patient response needed) measure focusing problems (refractive errors) of the eye. In addition, young children enjoy playing the visual acuity game of identifying common objects on a hand-held card like school busses, telephones, houses, and birds that are presented in smaller and smaller sizes. Most eye health tests, like pupil responses, external examinations, eye muscle testing, and internal examinations only require children to sit still and watch a picture, a toy, or a cartoon to keep their eyes fixated on a distance target.

For children who need to wear prescription glasses, polycarbonate lenses are the safest and most durable lens material to choose. Glass lenses can shatter into dangerous pieces if they are struck by a flying object; and plastic lenses--even with scratch coating--are not as durable as polycarbonate lenses for children. In addition, if a child plays a rough sport like baseball, basketball, or hockey, goggles such as "Rec-Specs" are wonderful eye safety devices. Wearing sunglasses (whether prescription is necessary or not) is also very important as they protect from harmful UV rays from the sun that cause further damage to the eyes.

Soft or new gas-permeable contact lenses are also an option for older children with significant spectacle prescriptions if they can keep their hands and lenses clean during contact lens insertion and removal. Children that wear contact lenses should always remember to take them out at the end of the day so that they do not sleep in their contacts because your chances of an eye infection increase significantly.