August is designated as Children's Eye Health and Safety Month, and eye care physicians from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry and the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences advise that it is never too early to get your child's vision tested.
When should children get their first eye exam?
"Babies must have a vision screening by a health care professional soon after they are born, which must include an evaluation of the 'red reflex' of the eyes, according the American Academy of Ophthalmology," said Marcela Frazier, O.D., associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. "If an eye problem is suspected, then a comprehensive eye exam that includes the use of eye drops to dilate the pupil should be scheduled immediately. Children with developmental delays should also have a comprehensive eye exam, even if the vision screening is normal."
How does a dilated eye exam differ from a vision screening?
"Vision screenings are good for detecting eye and visual conditions that may require further testing," School of Optometry Professor Katherine Weise, O.D., said. "A dilated eye exam allows for a more comprehensive look at the health of the eye. It also allows the eye doctor to determine the best glasses prescription for the child, if needed. The drops make it difficult for the child to see up close for a while and create a sensitivity to light. However, more accurate information is obtained from eye doctors who use dilating drops to examine the eyes of children."
What are signs that my child may have blurred or improper vision?
Frazier warns that children do not typically complain about their vision, and Weise says there are many signs parents and teachers should look for when it comes to children:
"Squinting indicates a potential need for glasses, and covering an eye while reading indicates a potential difficulty in getting the eyes to work together efficiently," Weise said. "Complaints of eyestrain, intermittent blur or double vision, frequent headaches during the school week, or skipping lines and words when reading may indicate a problem coordinating the eyes and tracking properly while reading."
Weise also says a white light reflecting from one of the pupils can indicate an eye turn or something more serious. Parents or pediatricians who discover this should seek an eye doctor immediately.
How do I know if my child has a concussion as a result of a sports-related injury?
"They need to be taken to a children's hospital or emergency room to know definitively," Frazier said. "It's based on symptoms. In Alabama, we have a great resource at Children's of Alabama. They have a specialty clinic specifically devoted to children who have had a concussion or a traumatic brain injury."
What about eye injuries?
Weise says trauma to the eye, like a ball hitting the eye, can cause serious vision difficulty.
"Sport-related eye injuries are very common; therefore, we recommend sports goggles," Frazier said. "Injuries due to BB guns and fireworks are also very prominent and devastating. Some toys can have sharp edges that can cause injuries, so proper parental supervision is a must. Some household cleaning items can cause severe damage when they come in contact with the eye; they must be stored away from the reach of children."
How do I know what kind of eye protection my child should wear during sports?
"Some sports require goggles to be worn at all times," Frazier said. "If the child needs corrective lenses to see well, the safest are sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses."