EASTERN ONTARIO — October is the month to celebrate visual health and draw attention to the importance of healthy eyes. Regular eye examinations can help detect eye problems not always easy to recognize. For this reason, children need their eyes examined each year. In Ontario, eye examinations are free for children 19 and under.
“Comprehensive eye exams with an optometrist are the only way to tell if your child’s eyes are developing properly,” says Dr. Paul, Medical Officer of Health at the Eastern Ontario Health Unit. “Even though children undergo vision screenings at school, it’s necessary for parents to visit an optometrist with their children for an eye exam.”
Vision problems can cause speech difficulties and lead to developmental delays. However, many can be treated if they are caught early. Here are some ways to recognize a vision problem in children:
- An unusual eye appearance such as one eye that looks turned in or out; bumps, styes, redness, swelling or crusting of eyelids; drooping eyelid or frequently watery eyes
- Habits that could suggest a vision problem, such as not watching or following an object; touching things to help recognize them; not making eye contact, squinting or rubbing their eyes often, having poor depth perception or trouble seeing 3D, tripping, falling or bumping into things often, amongst others
- Difficulty with learning as evidenced with poor posture when reading/writing; poor handwriting; moving head, losing place, or skipping lines when reading; needing more effort than normal to complete schoolwork; working hard without achieving the expected results at school
Although comprehensive eye exams are preferable, vision screenings are sight test programs conducted in schools as an initial assessment of children’s visual health and allow to detect some signs of potential eye disease or vision problems. After a vision screening, parents whose child may have vision issues are encouraged to visit an optometrist for a more complete examination that will detect potential serious issues such as Retinoblastoma or retinopathy.
Early diagnosis and treatment are the keys to maintaining visual health and preventing vision loss for children. Smart decisions made at home can help and include:
- sitting at a distance equivalent to at least five times the width of your TV screen
- eating the right foods to help deter the onset of certain eye conditions
- taking a 20 second break from your computer screen every 20 minutes and focusing your eyes on something at least 20 feet away
Other good measures to adopt are wearing proper protective eyewear during outdoor activities, such as having your child wear sunglasses when stepping outside when the sun is shining to prevent damage from ultraviolet radiation. Undetected and untreated vision problems often cause reading difficulties and can cause the same signs and symptoms that are commonly attributed to issues such as ADHD, dyslexia and speech problems.
Remember that vision screenings are not a substitute for a comprehensive eye health exam. For more information on vision and eye health, consult the Canadian Association of Optometrists’ Children’s Vision and Screen Time document.