How Parents Can Prioritize Their Child’s Eye Health

Newswise – These are a child’s portholes to the world, and it’s a parent’s job to make sure the view stays crystal clear.

Possible problems abound. Nearsightedness, farsightedness and unexpected accidents can create problems. As a child’s eyes and vision develop, parents should help protect and care for them. But when is the right time to see a doctor? And how often should you make an appointment?

Dr Ajay Sonipediatric ophthalmologist at Penn State Health Lancaster Pediatric Center for Children, offers advice on the best way to protect your child’s eye health. The ophthalmology practice opens at the Lancaster Pediatric Center on Monday, October 3.

How often should I take my child to the eye doctor?

From birth, children receive regular eye exams that are different from the comprehensive eye exams performed by ophthalmologists and optometrists. Vision screenings are regularly carried out by pediatricians and school nurses. For example, they may perform red reflex exams in very young children, where the pediatrician uses a tool to illuminate the child’s eye to screen for any serious eye conditions that might impair visual development, such as cataracts.

Another method used by pediatricians and school nurses as children get older is the photoscreener. A special camera takes a picture of the eye’s light reflexes, which the instrument analyzes to detect conditions such as refractive error, which indicates a need for glasses, and strabismus, also known as eye crossed or lazy. If the instrument identifies a problem, the child is referred to an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam.

Once children are old enough to read an eye chart, this is the most reliable screening method. This type of screening takes place during health visits and at school.

“So not every child needs a full eye exam,” Soni said. “If there are no vision problems for a child, most children don’t need routine eye care.”

A word of caution: A child should have regular eye exams if they have a family history of childhood eye problems or have a systemic disease, such as Down syndrome or diabetes.

What are common eye problems in children?

Refractive errors such as myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism are the most common conditions. Parents may notice nearsightedness if a child always moves closer or squints to see things in the distance.

Another common eye condition in children is the previously mentioned strabismus. “If a child’s eyes don’t seem to line up when they make eye contact with you, that’s something that should be checked out,” Soni said.

Eye contact in babies typically develops around eight weeks, so parents shouldn’t worry about inconsistent eye contact in those early weeks, Soni said.

“Also, during these first few weeks, the baby’s eyes may cross or drift intermittently,” he said. “That’s pretty typical.”

While the red reflex is usually detected during an exam by a pediatrician, sometimes parents notice it when taking a photo, even though most phone cameras now have red-eye blockers. . If you see a red reflex that is consistently asymmetrical—only seeing it in one eye or noticing that the reflex is different colors in each eye—this may indicate a problem. This effect can also be noticed when the child is sitting in front of a lighted window.

It is possible that these uneven reflections indicate the presence of a cataract or, in rare cases, a tumor. “Such a child deserves a full eye exam by an ophthalmologist,” Soni said.

Parents should also take note of any redness, tearing, or sensitivity to light. These could be signs of inflammation or infection in a child’s eyes.

What’s the best way to protect a child’s eyes from injury?

When it comes to potential eye injuries, sports pose the greatest risk. Parents should consider the use of protective eyewear.

Children should also be educated on the proper use and safety of household items like scissors, pencils, and wire coat hangers. Bungee cords and Nerf guns can potentially cause serious eye injuries.

While many parents worry about the effect of digital screens on their child’s eyesight, there is no evidence that electronic devices are harmful to the eyes, Soni said. However, blue light from screens interferes with the brain’s release of melatonin at bedtime, so parents should consider limiting their child’s use of electronic devices at the end of the day. “That goes for kids and adults alike,” Soni said.

Prolonged “near work” of any type, such as looking at electronic devices or reading books, can, however, increase the risk of developing myopia. To mitigate the risk, Soni suggests following the 20-20-20 rule: after every 20 minutes of nearby work, look at something 20 feet away (like a tree through the window) for 20 seconds to give your eye muscles Relax time.

Time spent playing outdoors can help keep your child’s eyes healthy and protect against the development of myopia.

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The medical minute is a weekly health report produced by Penn State Health. Articles feature the expertise of faculty, physicians, and staff, and are designed to offer relevant and timely health information of interest to a broad audience.

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