How do you know if your child needs an eye check? There are a few signs you can look out for but, if in doubt, see a doctor! Poor eyesight can affect learning – and confidence. Often a child isn’t able to communicate what the problem is, or doesn’t know any different, and thinks it’s normal.
When is an eye check needed?
DR CLAUDINE PANG, Consultant Eye Surgeon and Medical Director at Asia Retina Eye Surgery Centre, says it’s a good idea to bring your child for a routine eye exam from the age of four years, even if he or she isn’t experiencing any problems.
“This is especially important for children of myopic parents because we know that myopia (near-sightedness) runs in families, and we want to detect any signs of early myopia so that we can start treating it early,” she says.
Moreover, eye doctors are now able to prescribe children with eye drops that can slow myopia progression, explains Dr Pang. These eye drops are most effective when started early.
5 common eye problems in children
Besides myopia, some of the most common eye problems she sees in children include astigmatism, eye allergies, eyelid infections and squints. According to Dr Pang, parents should bring their child to see an eye doctor if they notice:
- Squinting when trying to read or watch TV. This may be a sign that your child’s vision isn’t clear.
- Tilting their head abnormally to see the screen. This may indicate that the eyes are not well aligned.
- Blinking excessively. This may be a sign of unclear vision, tiredness, dryness or allergies.
- Tearing excessively. This may be a sign of glaucoma or blocked tear ducts.
- Rubbing their eyes excessively. This may be a sign of allergies or eyelid infection. Rubbing eyes profusely is also harmful, as it may bring about irreversible astigmatism and, even cataracts and retinal detachments.
In addition, if your child uses spectacles, Dr Pang recommends observing whether the spectacles fit their face properly.
“Often, it is poor-fitting spectacles that perpetuate the increase in their degrees because children are not using their spectacles correctly.” She adds, “Depending on your child’s eye condition, they should get a routine check every six months to a year in order to monitor any increase in spectacle power. Children grow rapidly and their spectacle power may change rapidly as well.”
Getting your child’s eyes checked by an eye professional can also help correct any refractive errors early on. Any undetected refractive errors, says Dr Pang, may lead to lifelong lazy eyes (amblyopia).
What to expect
During an eye screening, the child’s vision, colour vision and three-dimensional vision (stereopsis) are tested, and his or her eyes are examined in detail to detect any common allergies, eyelid infections, glaucoma or retinal problems, explains Dr Pang.
“Sometimes, in order to get an accurate assessment of a child’s spectacle degree, it may be necessary during the very first visit to instil dilating eye drops,” she says. “This dilating effect blurs the child’s vision temporarily, but can be a necessary step in getting a good vision reading. Many optical stores are unable to perform this crucial step, which is why spectacle degrees of children are often less accurate when obtained at the optical store compared to an eye clinic.”
How often should my child get checked?
Children with normal vision should get their eyes checked annually to monitor for myopia occurrence, says Dr Pang. As for children with myopia already, she suggests a check every six months to control the myopia progression.