Forget staring lovingly at your partner. As soon as you become a parent, that starry-eyed bliss turns full-force toward your baby. And that moment when they open their eyes and lock eyes with you for the first time? It’s enough to take your breath away. But it’s important to not only gaze at your little one, but also be mindful of the health of their beautiful, one-of-a-kind optics.
August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month — the perfect excuse (or, ahem, reminder) to get your child’s eyes checked out. Here’s your quick cheat sheet on children’s eye care along with some clear signs they might be struggling with vision.
Dr. Diana R. Shiba, ophthalmologist at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, says, as a general rule of sight, basic eye and vision screenings should happen at birth, during infancy and into preschool years. These appointments, which are usually coordinated by a pediatrician or a family physician, might include a slew of tests performed right in the office. When the child is cooperative and verbal, a formal acuity screening is recommended, which might include some instruments and questions to see through your child’s eyes.
If you’re trying to gauge your child’s sight but you’re not exactly sure what to look for, Shiba has some reassuring words: This is normal. Also, it’s normal for a newborn to have mild hyperopia (far-sightedness), which might alarm you, but not your ophthalmologist. "This is why it is important that parents maintain regular follow-ups with their pediatrician, who can refer the baby or child to an optometrist, ophthalmologist or even a pediatric ophthalmologist when appropriate,” says Shiba. "There are some possible warning signs that parents should be aware of, though, and these signs may become more noticeable as the child ages."
If you have glasses yourself, you have two worldviews: what it looked like before and what it looked like after glasses. In the pre-clear vision stage, you probably squinted to see nearly everything — from the television to a friend standing right next to you. If you’re noticing your toddler practicing this same behavior, Shiba recommends seeking a professional opinion for a more thorough investigation. "While squinting may be from something minor like eye irritation, it could also be a sign that the child is compensating for blurry vision and may be helped with a pair of glasses," she says.
Considering they just spent the better part of nine months cozy and warm, protected in your tummy, life outside the womb is a culture shock for newborns. Shiba says it’s common for infants to occasionally cross or drift their eyes. However, if it becomes frequent or lasts longer, especially after they’re 4 months old, she recommends a thorough checkup. "Eye movement disorders could be a sign that a baby or child needs glasses, but they may also be a sign of a more serious eye or health condition that may require additional medical or even surgical management,” she explains. "Prompt referral to and evaluation by an ophthalmologist is also important because the visual system of a child, especially before the age of 8 to 9, is still rapidly developing, and disorders that are not corrected at this age could lead to permanent visual loss in adulthood."
Next time you’re reading a book to your toddler or playing along with the new imaginary game they created, pay attention to how they look at objects, toys or even at you. Shiba explains that when a toddler prefers to look at everything with one eye over the other, it could indicate a need for glasses. You can evaluate their sight with an easy test. "If one eye sees more clearly than the other, infants or toddlers often become upset when the ‘good’ eye is covered and prevents viewing versus when the opposite eye is covered,” she suggests. If your kid has this reaction, she encourages parents to see a specialist ASAP.
Similar to preferring the left eye instead of the right, if your kid tends to turn or tilt their head constantly when trying to look at something, Shiba suggests a follow-up exam to determine the cause. This particular symptom could be an indicator of more dangerous conditions, so the sooner, the better. “The infant or child may have blurry vision, double vision or possibly an even more serious medical or surgical condition causing the child to prefer to look at objects from a certain gaze direction,” she adds.
Though seasonal allergies or a temporary clogged tear duct are no great cause for concern, Shiba explains that excessive tearing can give you a clue about vision issues your child is trying to cope with. "This may be a sign of a more urgent problem, like an object in the eye, excessive rubbing or eye strain and a need for glasses, to name a few," she explains. "Though rare, it could also be a vision-threatening condition like pediatric glaucoma."
Bottom line? If you’re wondering if your kid needs glasses, get them to a doctor for a professional diagnosis.
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