Why eye exams are important for your child’s vision
Most parents are aware of the importance of annual pediatrician or dental checkups for their children. However, many are not aware how crucial regular eye exams are for children as well. Since vision plays a critical role in learning and development, eye exams for infants and young children are highly recommended. Typically, a first eye exam should take place at around two years old, but even six months of age is not too young, particularly if you have a family history of eye issues, or if you have other concerns about your child’s visual health. While your pediatrician, family doctor or school may do a brief vision screening, this is not a substitute for an expert eye exam performed by a trained optometrist. A comprehensive eye exam requires special knowledge and equipment to look around and into the eye.
In this post we’re going to look at why a professional eye exam is so important for your child.
Babies are not actually born with fully formed vision. During the first few years of life their brains develop and they learn to see over time. If there is a hindrance to this process, the pathway from the brain to the eyes may not develop properly. It is critical to diagnose eye disorders as early as possible and start any treatment needed. For example, a condition known as “amblyopia” (often referred to as a “lazy eye”) can result in vision impairment and loss of depth perception. If not treated early, this can be irreversible later in life.
Vision problems can delay a baby’s development. By six months of age, babies can be tested for eye focusing skills, color vision, and depth perception. It’s important to find any problems as early as possible so they can grow and learn properly.
Your child’s safety may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to eye exams. Good vision, however, is crucial to your child’s safety as they start to move about and explore the world around them. Being able to see properly and have proper depth perception is very important when it comes to your child’s safe mobility.
Learning is up to 80% visual and therefore being able to see clearly is incredibly important for school age children and their development. Good vision and eye health contribute to success in school. Most of the time, children do not know that there’s anything wrong with their vision. They assume that what they are seeing is normal and therefore they won’t tell anyone that something could be wrong. Without regular eye exams these issues can go undetected.
Some of the most common vision problems in school aged children are blurry vision or a refractive error caused by nearsightedness or farsightedness and astigmatism resulting in blurry vision. Even a child who can see clearly may still have other vision problems relating to eye focusing, eye tracking and eye coordination. Eye health is very complex and only a skilled optometrist will be able to look for all possible issues that need to be considered.
Regular eye exams ensure that your child is able to learn. It may seem obvious but children who cannot see to the front of the classroom, focus on a picture, or words in a book will not be able to achieve their full learning potential. Undetected and untreated vision problems can lead to difficulties reading and writing, and can sometimes be mistaken for other issues such as ADHD or dyslexia. Vision problems can affect hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills for other physical activities, and can even impact their social development. Children that have trouble focusing will often feel frustrated which can lead to other preventable behavioral issues. Young children are constantly learning new skills. Good vision is essential for their academic and social success. Most parents are unaware that vision problems can cause speech difficulties, lead to developmental delays, and may even be the cause of short attention spans. Your school aged child should have an eye exam at least once every year. If ever your child complains that they can’t see or focus on their homework or is showing any signs of developmental delay, this may be a sign of a vision problem and it’s best to inform your eye doctor immediately to have an exam scheduled. Again, many conditions are easier to treat the earlier they are detected.
School aged children should have an eye exam once a year if no vision problems are detected. Children who need eyeglasses or contact lenses should be examined annually or as recommended by their optometrist.
Many people are not aware that regular eye exams can actually detect many other diseases in the body. Regular eye exams will check for signs of eye disease or other conditions that can affect not only your child’s vision but their overall health as well. A comprehensive eye exam can actually diagnose symptoms of diabetes (one of the most common chronic diseases among children and youth in Canada), high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tumors, autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, thyroid disorders, and other childhood eye diseases. Sometimes an eye exam is the first indicator of other problems in the body.
Eye exams can also detect childhood cataracts – a clouding of the eye’s lens. There are many types and causes of cataracts in children, and sometimes the cause is unknown. Finding and treating cataracts early is so important. Untreated, cataracts can have serious and permanent effects on a child’s vision, including permanent vision loss. Eye exams can even detect early signs of cancers including melanoma, leukemia, as well as brain tumors. Retinoblastoma is the most common type of eye cancer in children and accounts for about three percent of all cancer in children under 15 years of age. This disease may show signs as early as six to nine months old and can be detected with an early eye exam.
As with vision issues, many of these health issues are easier to treat if detected earlier. For this reason, regular eye exams are so important not only for your eye health but your overall health for both children and adults alike.
A child’s vision can actually change often and sometimes unexpectedly, which is why regular eye exams are so important. Here are a few signs to look for that may be an indication your child is having vision problems:
Your child does not watch or follow and object
Your child does not make eye contact
Your child squints when looking near or far
Your child blinks more than usual
Your child is constantly rubbing or touching their eyes
Your child tilts their head when looking at objects
Your child is uncoordinated when it comes to play or sports
Your child holds objects very close to their face, or closer than normal
Your child bumps into things or falls often
Your child closes or covers one eye when looking at objects
Your child gets frequent headaches
Your child often loses their place while reading
Your child reacts strongly to light
Your child is suddenly disinterested in reading or viewing objects
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, any sudden developmental delays, or any other issues that make you feel there may be something wrong with their vision, don’t hesitate to schedule an eye exam even if it’s between regular appointments. Remember that your child may not tell you or even realize that they are experiencing troubles with their vision so it’s important to be proactive as a parent.
I hope that now you can see how important it is to schedule a regular eye exam for your child at any age. A comprehensive exam is the only way to tell if your child has good eye health and vision. Proper eye health will ensure good brain development for your baby, a safe environment for your toddler, and improve your school aged child’s performance. A quick vision screening by a school nurse or pediatrician is not sufficient to check for all eye issues and an eye exam with a skilled optometrist is the only way to make sure your child’s eyes are developing properly. Any eye issues, or even other health issues that an eye exam can detect, are much easier to treat when caught early. Since children’s vision can change at any time throughout their youth it’s important to keep up with regular eye exams to give them the best chance at success!