Keeping your child’s eyes bright and healthy depends on you. Encouraging your child to take safety precautions and knowing what to do in an emergency can save her sight.
Visual development occurs rapidly in the early months and years of life. You may notice problems long before your child is old enough to talk about them. Your child's doctor also will watch for warning signs at regular checkups. If there is a problem, ophthalmologists and other specialists can help.
Vision screening begins in the delivery room. At birth, an infant’s pupils will constrict to light. The infant can fix his eyes on an object and follow it by 4 months of age. Visual maturity is usually reached at about age 9.
Because eye problems can develop suddenly, regular checkups are important. Your child’s doctor may use a number of diagnostic tools and techniques to check vision.
Inform your child's doctor if she is dizzy, gets a headache or becomes nauseated after reading, or has other changes involving eyesight.
Watch for these common symptoms:
COMMON VISUAL PROBLEMS
- Does not follow a moving light
- Does not initiate eye contact
- Rubs eyes excessively
- Tilts head or thrusts head forward
- Has trouble with reading or other close work
- Holds books close to eyes or sits very close to the television
- Writes or colors with head close to table
- Is clumsy or walks into things
- Does poorly in school, especially in subjects that involve demonstrations on the chalkboard, such as math
- Squints or frowns
- Is inaccurate in judgment in picking up objects
- Closes one eye to see
- Tilts head to one side
With this problem, your child can see objects clearly if close enough, but they become increasingly blurred when farther away. Young children are naturally a bit farsighted (the inability to focus close up) because their eyes are still developing.
Nearsightedness usually develops between ages 6 and 10 and is discovered when a school-age child complains about not being able to see the chalkboard. Eyeglasses are the common solution.
With this problem, children have more focusing power than teens and adults. With automatic focal adjusting, they often can overcome a mild case of farsightedness. Others still need glasses.
With this problem, the child’s eyes have unequal sharpness of vision. For example, one eye may be more farsighted or nearsighted than the other. When the brain prefers to use the sharper eye to see, the other eye can become “lazy” (hence the term “lazy eye”) to the point of not having any useful sight. Immediate treatment to improve or restore vision in the “lazy” eye is crucial, because the condition cannot be corrected once the child reaches visual maturity.
With this problem, the child can focus correctly, but an irregularity in the shape of the cornea prevents clear vision. Problems with depth perception and blurry vision can impair school performance and cause eyestrain. Eyeglasses are the solution.
With this condition, the eyes are not aligned properly, making it difficult or impossible for the eye to focus properly. One or both eyes may look inward (crosseyed) or outward (wall-eyed). If this problem is not corrected, the child may develop amblyopia and vision loss. The earlier the treatment, the better the chances for success.
Eye injuries are common in childhood and are a leading cause of blindness. The sad thing is that 90 percent of eye injuries are preventable. Sophisticated treatment may prevent blindness and minimize long-term problems, but the best cure is to avoid injury in the first place.
To protect your child, follow these basic rules of eye safety:
- Teach your child to never run with a stick or anything sharp.
- Insist that she always wear certified eye protectors for sports such as baseball, basketball, racquetball and hockey, in which eye injuries are the most common.
- Keep exposure to ultraviolet light (from sunlight, tanning beds or sun lamps) moderate. When your child is outside, he should wear sunglasses that block out both UVA and UVB rays.
- Think carefully about the danger before you buy a BB gun. They are a great risk to a child’s eyesight.
- Teach your child to stay away from chemicals such as cleaners.
- Keep infants and toddlers away from activities involving projectiles. The blow from a wayward swing, baseball or golf ball could severely damage sight.
- Teach your child to point objects away from himself and others and to not throw things.
- Insist that he stay clear of potentially dangerous equipment (power tools, chemistry sets) unless he’s wearing safety goggles and is familiar with the equipment’s use, as well as its hazards.
- Teach girls to take extra care with curling irons and mascara brushes.
Fireworks cause thousands of eye injuries every year, mostly to children. One fourth of those injured suffer permanent vision loss or blindness. One in 20 victims loses all useful vision or the eye itself.
The safest way for children to enjoy fireworks is to attend a professional display. If you do set off your own fireworks, take these precautions:
WHEN TO SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION
- Never let children handle or ignite fireworks.
- Supervise the use of sparklers, which can be poked into the eye or shoot sparks into the eyes.
- Don’t set off firecrackers in bottles, cans or under clay pots, which can shatter and propel fragments into the eye.
- Always wear safety glasses or goggles when setting off fireworks.
Contact your child’s doctor if she experiences:
- Slowly fading vision after seeing a flash of light.
- Pain in the eyes 4 to 6 hours after using a sun lamp or other prolonged exposure to light.
- A bruise below the eye resulting from a blow to the eye. The bony orbit that holds the eye may be fractured, the retina may become detached or the cornea may be scratched. All black eyes should be evaluated by a physician.
- Pain after wearing contact lenses.
- Seeing double after a blow to the head or eye area.
- A speck of dirt in the eye causing pain when the eye moves.
- Do not let your child rub his eye.
- Do not put medication in the eye unless prescribed by your child’s doctor.
- Do not try to remove objects stuck in the eye. Cover both eyes and get emergency help.
- Do not force eyes open except when flooding with water to remove chemicals.
Examine the eye for the presence of a foreign body, such as a speck of dirt. Gently pull the eyelids outward to expose the lining and look under them. Sometimes this frees the object enough for tears to dislodge it. Next, try to flush it out with water. If that doesn’t work, consult a physician.
Immediately irrigate the eye with lots of cool or tepid tap water for 20 minutes (use the bathtub). Pour water across the eye gently, away from the nose. Gently pull out the upper lid to flush thoroughly. You must hold the eyes open. Try to identify the chemicals and take your child to the ER knowing as many details as possible.
Suspected detached retina:
If your child complains of fading vision and seeing light flashes, place him on his back and keep his head still. Place a patch over both eyes and see a physician at once.
Blow to the eye:
Place a patch over both eyes and transport the child in a flat position for immediate medical help, especially if the child is complaining of vision problems.
Suspected burns from light:
Put your child in a dark room, apply cold compresses and seek medical attention immediately.