Child eye exams: An essential part of your child’s health

by Brenda Walliin on August 11, 2015

in Healthy Living

ch-callout-optometry (1)Eyes play a critical role in a child’s ability to learn about and experience the world but, as parents, it is often hard to know when you should get your child’s eyes checked. August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month and is a great opportunity to learn when and how often your child should have his or her eyes checked. Just like all other preventative measures, eye exams in children are extremely important.

Starting as newborns, children’s eyes should be examined during regular pediatric appointments. In the first year of life, pediatricians will refer infants to a pediatric ophthalmologist if they begin noticing problems after 3 months of age. Also, a referral will be made if infants have a history of retinoblastoma in a parent or sibling, or have an abnormal red reflex – which is checked when pediatricians hold an ophthalmoscope 12 to 18 inches from a patients eye to check for abnormalities.

“The visual pathway and development is an on going processes for the first 7-10 years of life,” says Matthew Recko, MD, pediatric ophthalmologist at Scott & White. “The earlier an issue is found and addressed, the better the therapeutic response can be. Early detection and treatment has the potential to prevent permanent visual disability.”

Pediatricians should continue to perform vision screenings or vision risk assessments with every yearly well child-checkup. It is important to talk with your pediatrician about any family history of vision problems (including lazy eye, crossed eye, use of eye patch as a child to correction vision, or strong prescription eyeglasses). If you notice problems with your child’s eye, like wandering or crossed eyes, disinterest in reading or viewing distant objects or squinting, talk to your doctor at your next scheduled appointment.

If a pediatrician thinks further evaluation is necessary for conditions such as strabismus (crossed eyes), chronic tearing or discharge, amblyopia (lazy eye), or ptosis (drooping of the eyelid), he or she will make a vision screening referral.

“Patients can be referred by their primary care provider for specific issues or can call and schedule an exam,” adds Dr. Recko. “With the use of electronic medical records, the examination and recommendations are made available to the patient and are automatically sent to the primary care provider or referring physician. This allows a well rounded care plan.”

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, an estimated 80 percent of preschoolers do not receive visions screenings. To keep on top of your child’s eye health, screenings should continue at regular well-child pediatrician appointments throughout childhood. After the age of 7, vision screening should be repeated every one to two years.

“Your pediatric ophthalmologist will better advise you on the frequency of examination. It is not uncommon for annual exam to occur for minor issues, but more frequent exams (i.e. every three months) may be recommended depending on the diagnosis and treatment regimen,” says Dr. Recko.

Children born prematurely (especially less than 34 completed weeks) and children with developmental delay, genetic abnormalities, or neurological problems are at greater risk of vision problems. If your child has one of those conditions, make sure to bring it up with your doctor and have a full eye exam performed regularly.

Kids should also proactively protect their eyes, including wearing protective eyewear during sports or recreational activities, playing with age-appropriate toys, and wearing sunglasses that block 100% of the sun’s UVA and UBA rays. A major cause of childhood eye injury comes from objects thrown by a lawn mower and dog bites. It is advised to keep children away during lawn care and to teach children how to properly approach and interact with animals.

Not all vision problems can be seen, and children often do not complain about vision problems. Regular eye exams will help your child maintain healthy vision at all ages.

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