A complete guide to your child’s vision, including how to ensure long-term eye health
Nearly one in 20 preschoolers and one in four school-age children have an eye problem that could result in permanent vision loss if left untreated, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). That's why taking care of your child’s eyes – beginning well before he or she is able to read an eye chart – is so crucial.
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Eye Exams: Start 'Em Early
Shortly after birth, your baby’s eyes should be examined for vision problems and signs of disease, according to the AAO. An ophthalmologist can check an infant’s eyes through dilated pupils even though the child is too young to respond verbally to testing. The AAO also recommends vision testing at 3 months; 6 months to one year; 3 years; and 5 years.
In addition to an examination of the eye itself, a vision-acuity test can be performed as soon as a young child is able to identify common objects. For example, toddlers and preschoolers may be asked to identify a boat or a teddy bear, as opposed to the letters found on a standard eye chart.
During the elementary-school years, exams should be performed every two to three years if your child hasn’t had any previous vision problems, says Arthur Rosenbaum, M.D., chief of the pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus division at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. "But if there are any vision problems that run in the family, such as nearsightedness," he says, "the child should be checked yearly."
Dr. Rosenbaum notes that a child's pediatrician or family physician is often the first to catch potential eye problems in a young child, and that regular visual-screening exams are an important part of well-child checkups. Your pediatrician can also be on the lookout for other factors that can put your child at increased risk for eye disease. If any of these factors apply to your child, the AAO recommends asking your doctor how frequently to schedule medical eye exams:
- Developmental delay
- Premature birth
- Personal or family history of eye disease
- African-American heritage (African-Americans are at increased risk for glaucoma)
- Previous serious eye injury
- Use of certain medications (check with your child’s doctor)
- Some diseases that affect the whole body (such as diabetes or HIV infection)
Setting a Good Example
One of the best ways to ensure that your child retains good vision throughout life is for you to pave the way with your own good example, according to the AAO. Here’s how:
- Always wear protective eyewear when playing sports, working in the yard, using harsh chemicals or working on the car.
- Make sure your children know the hazards of playing with fireworks. Don’t use them yourself or allow kids to use them. Instead, take your family to a professional fireworks show.
- Have your own eyes examined at recommended intervals. This shows your child that his or her body is worth taking care of and that preventive medicine is the best medicine.
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