Spotting whether something is wrong with your child’s health isn’t always easy, especially when it comes to their eyes.
Unlike many other physical health issues, there’s no sudden rash, infant paracetamol won’t solve it, and it usually takes noticing a collection of symptoms, rather than just one, to realise something is impairing their vision.
Vision problems are likely more common than you think too, as new statistics have revealed 42% of under 16s require glasses or contact lenses.
Bayfields Opticians analysed data from more than 7,500 under 16s it has performed eye tests on in the last four years, discovering over two fifths needed glasses.
So how can you tell if your child has a vision problem?
“Some physical changes you might start to spot in your child, if there is a problem with their vision, can include frequent rubbing or squinting of their eyes, or perhaps they purposefully close one eye when trying to read,” says Royston Bayfield, founder of Bayfields Opticians.
“Their eyes might also tear up or run excessively, and you might notice they’re more light-sensitive than usual.”
A change in the condition of young eyes can affect other things too.
“There might be sudden change in their academic performance at school, they might demonstrate confusion when doing certain activities, or show a lack of focus when you’re interacting with them,” notes Bayfield.
You should also look out for any unusual clumsiness, or if they struggle with hand-eye co-ordination.
“They might also express that their eyes hurt – especially when using computers or tablets – and may complain of headaches,” he adds.
What should I do if I suspect my child has an issue with their eyes?
“Firstly, don’t panic,” says Bayfield. “Eye health is integral to your child’s overall development, but opticians are trained specifically in providing solutions that solve eyecare problems, including those in under 16s.”
He continues: “If you spot one or several of these symptoms in your little one, it’s important to book them in for an eye test at your opticians’ earliest opportunity.”
From there, he says, it’s a good idea to begin researching the options that might be presented to you if your child does need some support with their vision.
For example, will your child be more likely to want glasses or contact lenses? Glasses come in all shapes and sizes, and might seem the simplest solution. However, they can be easily lost or broken.
“Contact lenses are an excellent alternative to glasses and your optician can usually help you and your little one to get used to them,” says Bayfield. “For the most part, the deciding factor in this is your own child’s ability to take care of either their glasses or contact lenses, so start discussing both options with them ahead of your appointment.”
It’s never too early for your child’s first comprehensive eye examination. #EyeTips
— Shirley Ha,OD, FCOVD (@Sightforlife) August 22, 2011
What does a chid’s eye exam involve?
“Your child’s eyes are given a basic test for pupil reflexes within 72 hours of their birth, and have another simple test at their six to eight week check,” says Bayfield. “Between the age of one and two-and-a-half, the person undertaking your child’s health and development reviews will ask you if you’ve any concerns over your child’s vision.
“If you’ve spotted any of the symptoms above, you should explain them clearly.
“From the age of three onwards, you should be taking your child to an optician regularly, who will perform a number of tests.”
Red reflex test: A light is shone into your child’s eyes and a red reflection should be reflected back
Pupil reflex test: A light is shone into the eye, the pupil should automatically dilate in response.
Attention to visual objects: A simple test to see if a child’s eyes follow an interesting object.
Range of movement: The interesting object will be placed in eight different positions, to check eye muscles.
Refraction test: The test most likely to determine if your child needs glasses, this involves your child looking at a light while different lenses are placed in front of their eyes. They might be given special eyedrops before the test to widen their pupils.
Colour vision deficiency test: This is usually carried out on older children who are suspected of colour blindness. Your child will be asked to recognise a letter or number within an image made up of dots in two different colours. A child with normal vision will spot the letter or number, while a child with a colour vision problem won’t.
If your optician has any concerns after carrying out all these tests, Bayfield says they will investigate further to see if there are any underlying eye health conditions and may prescribe glasses or lenses.
“August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, so we’re encouraging families to book our special one-hour appointments so their children can get their eye health and vision checked before term starts again in September,” he adds.
Eye examinations are available for free on the NHS for under-16s or anyone aged between 16 and 18 and in full-time education. Trained optometrists will examine overall eye health, as well as vision.