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Children’s eye health – 5 essential things every parent must know:

75% of vision loss in children is preventable or treatable if detected early enough.
By Motherpedia
Date: June 24 2014
Tags: eye health,
Editor Rating:

The ability of young children to adapt, learn and play despite often significant eye conditions often leads many parents to miss the early signs of visual impairment, according to Orthoptist Handan Otay.

Handan, who specialises in diagnosing and treating children with vision and eye muscle problems, often works with parents who simply weren’t aware their child’s eye sight was impaired.

“Most pre-school children don’t compare themselves with others and simply assume everyone sees the same way they do. Without knowing their sight is different there isn’t a trigger to tell their parents.

"It’s not until school, when they spend more time with peers and are expected to perform similar tasks, do their visual problems become apparent. If the vision is significantly reduced the child may have learning difficulties, behavioural issues, and social issues.  Although often, if the visual problem is just in one eye, it goes unnoticed," Handan says. 

The likelihood of missing the signs of visual impairment makes preschool eye screening vital.

“Vision develops to maturity between the ages of 8-10 and the level of vision cannot be improved thereafter. The earlier parents treat any eye conditions before visual maturity is reached, the better the chance for improving their child’s sight. It is vital that all children have their eyes tested prior to starting school."

Parents can take steps to check the eye health of their young children, Handan advises. Here she shares her 24 years expertise with the caveat, “that not all eye impairment is blindness, there can be many other eye conditions you child might be experiencing.”

1. Be mindful of family history

The first warning sign is a family history of eye issues. If you, or a close family member, have an eye condition it’s important to begin eye testing your child early. “You can start at just six months of age, and if instructed by a specialist, follow up with regular check ups,” said Handan.

2. Mum (or dad) knows best

The expression 'mother knows best' holds true in assessing eye health. In babies older than eight weeks, if you notice your child not being able to make eye contact or not being able follow a moving object, or making quick, often jerk like movements from side-to-side, not reacting to light, or their eyes not lining up evenly and tuning in or outwards, make sure you seek immediate testing.

3. Look for unusual behaviorus

In older children, if you notice something about the way your child uses their eyes or they seem to behave differently to other children, even if they have normal-looking eyes, there may still be a problem.

“Children with vision impairment may rub their eyes more often or have difficulty seeing things at night. They may also have hand-eye coordination issues and hold things closer to their faces. If any of these behaviors are consistent over time, seek assessment,” says Handan.

4. Don’t worry unnecessarily about electronics

And that includes gaming devices, smartphones and the television!

“Your child will not damage their eyes by using them. Most kids sit close to the television because they can! What could damage your child’s sight are long periods of study. Recent Australian research shows there are strong links between excessive study hours in school children and short sightedness (myopia).

“So make sure your child spends ample time outdoors in the sunshine, advises Handan. Looking into distances further than six metres away also relaxes the eyes.

5. Carrots are not a myth

While good nutrition won’t prevent your child from underlining genetic or illness based vision impairment, for their long-term eye health, Handan recommends a diet rich Beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), found in carrots, Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, and Antioxidants found in leafy green vegetables. 

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