Looking after young eyes

The moment I was told to pen down some words on paediatric eye care, I did not have to crack my head to understand the problem faced by most parents when it comes to children's vision care these days.

I see my son Danish, who is four-and-a-half years old, sitting in front of the TV, watching his favourite programmes: cartoons - Spiderman, Transformers, Ultraman, and what not.

Also, with one hand holding an iPad, he plays games and has fun with interactive lessons available online provided by the App store.

If he is bored with all that, he will start amusing himself with colouring books. Occasionally, he will jump on his tricycle and cycle around the living hall within its four walls.

I'm sure this is a common scenario with children nowadays. Because these activities affect their vision, parents will have to address any problems for the betterment of the child's visual development.

When vision develops

Even at a newborn stage, infants are able to see. Their vision improves as they continue to grow. During their early childhood years, the visual system changes quickly, and if the child complains of visual clarity, it could be that his/her vision is not developing properly. In fact, visual development may even decrease.

Through a thorough eye exam, the doctor can detect reduced visual acuity, squint or misalignment of the eyes, amblyopia (lazy eyes), glaucoma (high eye pressure), cataract and blocked tear ducts, to name a few.

If diagnosed early, the child will have better chances of gaining back good vision.

By nine years of age, the visual system is fully developed, and usually cannot be changed. This means a child has only up to nine years of his/her life to correct any pathology in the visual system.

After that, it may be too late to consult the eye doctor for any treatment.

Signs of poor vision

Babies have poor vision at birth but can see faces at close range, even for newborns.

At about six weeks old, a baby's eyes should follow objects, and by four months, he or she should have conjugate movements, where the movement of both eyes are synchronised with each other.

Over the first year or two, vision develops rapidly. A two-year-old usually would have gained around 90-95 per cent of their distant vision.

Given all the facts above, parents should be aware of signs of poor vision in children. If one eye turns or crosses, that eye may not see as well as the other eye.

If the child is disinterested in faces or age-appropriate toys, or if the eyes rove around or jiggle (nystagmus), poor vision may be the reason.

Another sign to watch out for is when the child tilts his/her head and squints.

Unable to complain, babies and toddlers compensate for poor vision by showing the behaviours mentioned above.

When to get an eye exam?

The first recommended eye exam for your child is between the ages of three and five years. However, a complete eye exam can even be performed on a newborn child.

Visual sharpness can be assessed on a child as young as three months to two years of age.

Prescriptions for glasses can also be measured in even the youngest and most uncooperative child by using a special instrument called a retinoscope. It analyses light reflected through the pupil from the back of the eye.

If you have any suspicion that your child is having visual problems, he/she should be examined right away.

Towards healthier activities

There must be some time allocated for parents to be with their children for at least a few hours a day.

Encourage children to indulge more in outdoor activities like walking or jogging, under their parents' supervision.

Throughout life, the eyes should be trained to look at any distance so that it does not develop significant refractive errors, be it for near or far distances.

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