August is Vision & Learning Month and it is a great time to learn about your children’s eyes. The visual system is the MOST IMPORTANT way we bring in information about the world around us. That’s why it is so important for children to see an OPTOMETRIST EVERY YEAR THEY ARE IN SCHOOL.
There are a lot of myths and misinformation out there about children’s eye health. It may be better to see an optometrist rather than turning to Dr. Google for answers. An optometrist is an expert in medical problems and in vision problems.
Some common MYTHS about children’s eye health are:
Myth #1 A child only needs an eye examination if they complain about their vision.
A child should have a yearly examination by an optometrist. Although your pediatrician may check sight, meaning “read the letters on the eye chart”, that is only a small part of vision. When we read, for example, our eyes must work together as a team, must focus at near, and must move across the page. Seeing letters on an eye chart at a distance of 20 feet doesn’t tell us how someone’s eyes are working when reading or doing homework. When we look at near, the focusing muscles in the eyes must work to make reading clear. A child usually thinks they are seeing the same way everyone else sees, so they often cannot tell us that there is a problem. An optometrist can detect that, even if a child can’t read letters.
Myth #2 A child only needs an eye examination if the pediatrician recommends it.
The American Optometric Association suggests that the first eye examination should be at age 1, then at age 3, and at age 5. They should have a full eye examination by an eye doctor, (not a vision screening), every year they are in school. The reason for the early examination is to detect eye health issues and to ensure that the visual system is developing correctly. A child with amblyopia (lazy eye) for example, can’t tell they are not seeing out of one or both eyes. At times, even an eye turn (strabismus) is not apparent to parents.
Myth #3 Pink eye only happens in young children.
While young kids are known for getting “pink eye” due to close contact in day care centers, so can teenagers, college students, and adults. To avoid this from spreading, practice good hygiene, including washing your hands, not touching your eyes, and using clean towels and other products around the face. Antibiotics are used at times, but are only effective if the cause is due to bacteria. Most cases are caused by viral infections or allergies and do not respond to antibiotics.
Myth #4 Vision loss only happens to adults.
The eyes of a child with amblyopia (lazy eye) may look normal, but this eye condition can steal sight if not treated. Amblyopia is when vision in one eye is reduced because the eye and brain are not working together properly. Strabismus, (crossed eye or wall eye) is another eye condition that can cause vision loss in a child. Strabismus is when the eyes do not line up in the same direction when looking at an object.
Myth #5 I can’t prevent my child from becoming nearsighted.
When identified early, we can treat the underlying problem and prevent a child from becoming more nearsighted. Most doctors simply give children a higher and higher prescription each year, but that is merely compensating and does not correct the problem. Vision Therapy enables the child, and adult, to use their two eyes together as a team and can prevent the progression of myopia (nearsightedness). Orthokeratology enables us to help children who are becoming more nearsighted and we can even reverse nearsightedness in children. Ortho-k combined with Vision Therapy together offers the best possibility to prevent children from becoming nearsighted.
Myth #6 All farsighted children need glasses.
Most children are farsighted early in life and that is actually normal. Children may need glasses when their farsightedness blurs their vision or leads to strabismus, or it impacts learning. If there is a large difference between the two eyes, that can lead to amblyopia (lazy eye). At times, special contact lenses may be needed to help treat lazy eye.
Myth #7 There is no difference between a vision screening and a vision exam.
A vision screening is often confused as being an eye examination. The two are very different. A vision screening whether by the school nurse or by the pediatrician should not take the place of a full yearly examination. Even within eye doctors, not all eye doctors look for the same things. An ophthalmologist, for example, is an eye surgeon who is looking for eye disease rather than being expert in vision problems. Your child should see an optometrists, and particualry one who sees many children, because they are adept at looking for eye disease as well as vision problems that can affect schoolwork. Special instruments enable the doctor to see the retina, the back part of the eye, so most often a there is little need to use eye drops to dilate the pupil.