As a child’s eyes develop, it is not uncommon for problems to occur. We provide several ways to help your child's eyes be as healthy as possible.
As a child’s eyes develop, it is not uncommon for a number of problems to occur. Beyond blurred vision due to refractive error including nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia), children can develop a number of other visual and perceptual problems that are often not detected by a simple vision exam. Even a child with 20/20 vision, can have underlying vision problems!
Some of these issues are functional vision problems having to do with the actual eyes, how they move individually and as a pair, as well as their ability to focus. Functions such as eye teaming, tracking, focusing, and hand eye coordination, all affect a child’s success in school, sports or general functioning. Often children that have difficulty with these functions will suffer physical symptoms as well such as headaches, eye fatigue or short attention spans. With these critical visual skills lacking, tasks such as reading and writing can be extremely difficult and exhausting which can lead to frustration and behavioral problems.
Just like we are able to train our bodies to build strength, speed and agility, our vision skills can be strengthened. Vision therapy offers a doctor-supervised program to guide children to develop these skills.
Vision Therapy is a program of progressive eye exercises individualized for each patient designed to retrain or help the patient develop or improve upon particular visual skills or to improve processing and interpretation of visual information. It is used to treat conditions like strabismus (crossed eyes) and amblyopia (lazy eye) as well as eye movement, focus and coordination problems.
Typically, the sessions take place in the optometrist’s office weekly or bi-weekly and utilize a variety of tools such as therapeutic lenses or prisms. Often the patient will be asked to practice certain exercises or activities at home as well in order to reinforce the skills that are being developed. Through repetition of these tasks, the ultimate goal is to strengthen the skills such as focusing, and improving eye movement and alignment, to the point where the eyes and vision are working efficiently and comfortably. The duration of the therapeutic program usually lasts about 6-9 months.
Vision therapy has been scientifically proven to improve functional vision skills and is approved by the major optometric bodies such as the American Optometric Association and the Canadian Association of Optometrists. It does not improve refractive error and should not be mistaken for some of the alternative self-conducted eye exercises out there that claim to improve your vision.
Vision therapy has also been shown to be effective in adults. If you think that vision therapy could be right for your child or yourself, it is worthwhile to have an assessment by a trained vision therapist to determine whether it could help resolve the vision problems that are present.
Most parents believe that if their child had an eye or vision problem they would know. However, this is far from the truth for a number of reasons. First of all, children often can’t express or don’t realize the difficulty they are having, and often vision problems will be overlooked by the associated behavioral issues that come as a result of frustration. Further, many eye or vision problems don’t show symptoms until they have progressed significantly which often makes the condition harder to treat.
Conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (crossed-eyes) can be corrected more effectively when they are diagnosed and treated early at a young age. Further, the sooner you diagnose and correct a vision problem, the sooner your child will be able to achieve his or her potential without struggling with these difficulties. This is why it is critical to have your child’s eyes examined by an eye doctor at regular intervals. Here are some FAQ’s and answers about Children’s Vision that every parent should know:
A: The official recommendations for the American and Canadian Optometric Associations are that infants should have their first eye exams at 6 months. Following that, children with no known vision issues should have another exam at 3 years and then prior to entering kindergarten. Children who do not require vision correction or therapy should have a vision checkup every year or two years and those who use vision correction should have an annual eye exam. Of course if your child is experiencing difficulty in school or after school activities that may be due to a vision problem schedule an eye exam immediately.
A: Yes. Many schools implement a basic vision screening test to assess whether the child sees clearly at a distance, however these tests are limited in scope. They do not assess functional vision such as the child’s ability to focus, track words on a page or the eyes’ ability to work in tandem. They also do not look at the health of the eye itself. These tests are essential to know the comprehensive picture of how healthy the eyes are and how well they are doing their job. In fact, studies shown that up to 43% of children with vision problems can pass a vision screening test! A comprehensive eye exam will assess all of these functions as well as color vision, depth perception, and eye coordination.
A: Especially when diagnosed early, chances of a complete correction for strabismus and amblyopia are good when treated properly. The optimal age for this to occur is before 8-10 years old. Depending on the severity of the strabismus (crossed-eye), surgery may be required to straighten and properly align the crossed eyes. Amblyopia (lazy eye) can then be treated using eyeglasses, eye patching, or vision therapy to strengthen the weak eye and train the eyes to work together. A doctor that specializes in pediatric optometry can assess the condition and discuss treatment options on an individual basis.
A: Vision therapy is a doctor-supervised, individualized program of exercises to strengthen the functions of the eye. It is used to correct issues with eye alignment, focusing, coordination, tracking and more. Vision therapy often utilizes tools such as specialized lenses or prisms and involves exercises both during office visits and at home to reinforce the changes. The process usually takes about 6 months to see lasting improvement.
A: There is research that shows that progressive myopia can be stopped or slowed during the childhood years. There are a number of therapies that are used for what is called “myopia control” including multifocal eyeglasses or contact lenses, orthokeratology (ortho-k) or atropine eye drops. Speak to a pediatric optometry specialist to learn more about the options and what might work best for your child.
A: It may take time for your child to adapt to the feel of the glasses and to be comfortable seeing with them. For little children, you can find glasses that come with integrated headbands that can help to hold the glasses in place. It helps to be consistent in putting them on to allow the child to adapt to the feel of the glasses.
Very often, especially for small children that can’t tell you what is bothering them, the reason for a child’s refusal to wear glasses is that something is not comfortable. It could be that the prescription is not right, that the glasses pinch or that are feeling heavy. It could be worthwhile to take the glasses back to the eye doctor to ensure that they are in fact a proper fit.
A: Contact lenses can be a great convenience, especially for kids that are active or tend to break or lose their glasses. However, they are a medical device that must be treated with proper care and hygiene. If a child is not responsible enough to take care of them properly he could end up with a serious eye infection, a scratched cornea or worse. Most experts agree that the youngest age that contact lenses should be considered would be between 10-12 depending on the child’s maturity and cleanliness. Consult with your eye doctor about what would be best for your child.
Your baby’s visual system is not fully developed at birth and continues to develop gradually over the first days and months of life. In fact, from your baby’s perspective at birth, the world is black and white, blurry and rather flat. As the days and months go on, they begin to focus, move their eyes and start to see the world around them. While each child will grow and develop on his or her own schedule, knowing an infant’s vision milestones will help you ensure that your infant is on track to achieving good vision and eye health and start treatment early if there is a problem.
Because newborn babies’ eyes and visual system are underdeveloped, they can not focus their eyes on close objects or perceive depth or color. Babies need to learn to move, focus and coordinate eye movements to team the eyes (have them move together as a team). The brain also needs to learn how to process the visual information from the eyes to understand and interact with the world. In fact, until about 3 months, the optimal distance a baby can focus on is about 8 – 10 inches from their face, about the distance their parents face will be during feeding.
Your baby will start to be able to perceive color within the first 2-3 weeks, however it will take a few months to learn how to focus and use the eyes, to track objects, differentiate between two objects and shift from one object to the other. During this time you may notice that the eyes appear crossed and do not work together or team. This is quite common at the early stages of development, however if one eye appears to be constantly turned in or out, seek a doctor’s evaluation.
At around three months, as hand-eye coordination begins to develop, a baby should be able to follow a moving target with their eyes and reach for objects.
By 6 months, your baby will begin to move his eyes with more speed and accuracy, seeing at farther distances and focusing well. Color vision should be fully developed and the eyes should be able to work as a team and follow moving objects with relative ease. Hand-eye coordination and depth perception should be greatly improved as your baby will begin to understand the 3-dimensional world around them.
At six months, you should take your baby for his or her first comprehensive eye exam to ensure that the eyes are developing on track and there are no signs of congenital or infant eye disease.
At this stage of development babies will be coordinating vision and body movements by crawling, grasping, standing and exploring the surrounding world. They should be able judge distances accurately, throw a ball toward a target and pick up a small object with their fingers. Delays in motor development can sometimes indicate a vision problem.
While at 6 months, your baby will not be able to read an eye chart, eye doctors can perform an infant eye exam through non-verbal testing to assess visual acuity (for nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism), eye teaming abilities and eye alignment. The eye doctor will also be able to see inside the eye for any signs of disease or problems that could affect eye or vision health.
InfantSEE® is a public health program in which participating optometrists provide a free comprehensive infant eye exam to babies between 6 and 12 months of age. The program was initiated to provide accessible eye and vision care for infants to ensure they have the best chances for normal development and quality of life.
If your child has any unusual symptoms such as excessive tearing, constant eye misalignment, red or crusty eyes or extreme light sensitivity consult an eye doctor as soon as possible.
Physically, your child’s eyes can tolerate contact lenses at a very young age. Some babies are fitted with contact lenses due to eye conditions present at birth. And in a recent study that involved fitting nearsighted children of ages 8-11 with one-day disposable contact lenses, 90% had no trouble applying or removing the contacts without assistance from their parents.
So the important question is whether or not your child is mature enough to insert, remove and take care of their contact lenses. How they handle other responsibilities at home will give you a clue. If your child has poor grooming habits and needs frequent reminders to perform everyday chores, they may not be ready for the responsibility of wearing and caring for contact lenses. But if they are conscientious and handle these things well, they may be excellent candidates for contact lens wear, regardless of their age.
Many kids are active in sports. Contact lenses offer several advantages over glasses for these activities. Contacts don’t fog up, get streaked with perspiration or get knocked off like glasses can. They also provide better peripheral vision than glasses, which is important for nearly every sport. There are even contact lenses with special tints to help your child see the ball easier.
For sports, soft contact lenses are usually the best choice. They are larger and fit closer to the eye than rigid gas permeable (GP) lenses, so there’s virtually no chance they will dislodge or get knocked off during competition.
If your young son or daughter is nearsighted, rigid gas permeable (GP) contacts may be the best choice. In some cases, GP contact lenses may slow the progression of myopia in children. (Soft lenses don’t offer this potential benefit.) Also, GP lenses are more durable and often provide sharper vision than soft contacts.
Contact lenses can do wonders for some children’s self-esteem. Many kids don’t like the way they look in glasses and become overly self-conscious about their appearance because of them. Wearing contact lenses can often elevate how they feel about themselves and improve their self confidence. Sometimes, even their school performance and participation in social activities improves after they switch to contact lenses.
If your child chooses to wear contact lenses, they still need an up-to-date pair of eyeglasses. Contact lenses worn on a daily basis should be removed at least an hour before bedtime to allow the eyes to “breathe.” Also, there will be times when your child may want to wear their glasses instead of contact lenses. And contact lenses should be removed immediately any time they cause discomfort or eye redness.
Motivation is often the most important factor in determining whether your son or daughter will be a successful contact lens wearer. If you wear contact lenses yourself and love them, that still doesn’t mean they are the right choice for your child. Some children like wearing glasses and have no desire wear contact lenses.
We can usually tell at your child’s contact lens consultation if they really want to wear contact lenses. If it appears that they would rather stay in glasses, we will certainly respect their decision – and you should, too.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of timing. Often, a child may feel they don’t want contacts, but a year or two later, they do. There’s always time to make that decision.
When you and your child agree it’s time for contacts, call our office to schedule a contact lens consultation. We welcome the opportunity to help kids of all ages enjoy wearing contact lenses.