Eye care for your child

baby-eyesTaking care of your eyes is very important at all ages. Visual information helps children develop and to process the world around them from the time they are babies. Difficulty seeing can result in problems in learning as well as relating to the outside world. Most vision problems can be treated and corrected, but it is important to identify them as early as possible.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as well as the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommend regular vision checks:

The first vision exam should occur before your baby even leaves the hospital nursery. Newborns should have their eyes checked for infections, structural defects, cataracts, or congenital glaucoma.

Premature infants will need a special eye exam done by a pediatric ophthalmologist. A pediatric ophthalmologist is an eye doctor trained and experienced in the care of children’s eye problems.  Preemies are at risk for a condition called retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). ROP happens when a baby’s retinas don’t fully develop in the weeks after birth. The retina is the nerve tissue that lines the back of the eye. ROP usually affects both eyes. If your baby has ROP, getting treatment right away is very important.

Six months
Pediatricians should screen infants during their well-baby check-ups to make sure they have proper eye alignment. This means that their eyes are working together. They should continue to look for signs of eye disease.

Three to four years
At this age, both the eyes and vision should be examined by your child’s health care provider for any abnormalities that may cause a problem with educational development. Concerns will result in a referral to a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Five years and older
Regular screening of visual acuity and other eye functions should be completed every year during the well-child exam. The visual acuity test is used to determine the smallest letters you can read on a standardized chart or a card held 20 feet away. There are other ways to check vision in very young children if they do not yet know their letters or numbers.

Although routine eye exams are important, as a parent you may notice signs that your child is having difficulty seeing. According to AAP, some of the signs that a child may have a vision problem include:
• sensitivity to light
• poor focusing and poor visual tracking (following an object)
• abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after 6 months of age)
• persistent (lasting more than 24 hours) redness, swelling, crusting, or discharge in the eyes
• excessive tearing of the eyes
• frequent squinting
• drooping of one or both eyelids
• pupils (the center circle of the eye) of unequal size
• eyes that “bounce” or “dance”
• inability to see objects unless they are held close
• a white pupil instead of black in one or both eyes
• any cloudiness in the eye

If you notice any of these symptoms, make sure you contact your child’s health care provider right away. If caught early, many eye problems can be treated and corrected.

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