How to protect your toddler’s vision featuring Sydney Ophthalmologist Michael Jones
The following article appeared on Woolworths baby and toddler club and features Sydney Ophthalmic Specialists very own kids eye doctor, Dr Michael Jones. He summarises all of the key points that will help ensure your children develop healthy eyes, and also when the right time to visit an ophthalmologist.
Vision problems can be hard to detect in young children because often they don’t realise there’s a problem so don’t mention it to their parents. Even the most switched-on adult might not notice anything’s wrong. Yet paediatric ophthalmologist Dr Michael Jones, who is a staff specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, diagnoses vision problems in three or four children every day. “The earlier these issues get picked up, the better the chances of recovery,” Dr Jones says.
When to have your toddler’s eyes checked
Dr Jones suggests that you get your little one’s eyes tested at age four or five, before starting school. It’s a good age, he says, because by then, your child can answer a series of questions about what they can see. In NSW, a new initiative called the StEPS program (Statewide Eyesight Preschooler Screening) is conducting vision tests at preschools and childcare centres, which provides a terrific early intervention tool.
If you can’t find a StEPS screening near you or live in another state, you should book an appointment for your child to have a Medicare eyetest (they’re free every two years) with an optometrist, Dr Jones advises. If problems are identified, the next step is to book an appointment with an ophthalmologist if they can’t be fixed with a simple pair of glasses. Assuming nothing untoward is picked up, another test should be booked before senior primary (around year three of school) and a final one before high school.
If something’s wrong with my child’s sight
If problems are identified, the next step is to book an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Often, the issue is a disparity in the visual signals the brain receives from the eyes – this is usually because one eye is short- or long-sighted compared to the other, or because one eye is turned in (a squint). Over time, the brain can favour the stronger eye and by the age of eight these changes can become permanent.
Caught early, vision problems can be treated. Your ophthalmologist might suggest placing a patch over the good eye to ‘wake up’ the brain cells processing information from the bad eye. Glasses can correct long- or short-sightedness, and if a squint doesn’t correct itself, it can be fixed with surgery.
Checking your child’s eyes at home
If you’re after a DIY test, Dr Jones suggests covering one eye at a time and asking your toddler if the letters or pictures in a book look the same. Take note of an eye that turns in or if your child looks at objects with a slightly turned head. If you notice something’s amiss, book an appointment with a GP or optometrist as soon as possible.
Eye health myths
As for your child sitting a certain distance from the TV or computer screen, or even reading in the dark, the worst consequence is dry eyes from not blinking and eyestrain as a result. None of this is permanent and these behaviours won’t give your child ‘square eyes.’
How to treat 3 common eye problems
- Blocked tear duct symptoms include watery eyes with pus and crusted mucus, often made worse during a cold. Dr Jones says that while this problem affects 15 per cent of newborns, 90 per cent of the time it resolves itself by the first birthday. If it persists after a year, see an ophthalmologist. Meanwhile, keep your child’s eyes clean using a warm, wet face washer with a bit of ‘no tears’ baby shampoo to clean the edges of the lid, which can help unblock the ducts if gunk has built up
- Pink eye (conjunctivitis) symptoms include discharge, redness and swollen eyelids. You can get a basic antibiotic drop over the counter from the pharmacist. But Dr Jones warns that if only one eye is affected and the problem persists after 48 hours of treatment, you should see your doctor. Not all pink eye is bacterial – it could be the herpes simplex virus, which needs specialist care. It is important to note that both the viral and bacterial infections are contagious.
- Stye symptoms include a tender, painful red lump at the base of an eyelash or under or inside the eyelid as a result of a blocked eyelash follicle. Use the face washer/warm water/baby shampoo method suggested above for blocked tear ducts.