Being able to see well is essential for kids’ proper cognitive development and learning, says about 60 percent of kids with reading difficulties have undiagnosed vision problems. Kids should be screened for common eye problems by age one with a comprehensive exam.
(Checkups include a test for coordination using a penlight, and screenings for vision impairment by observing she follows an object with one eye and then the other.) Kids should be seen again by age three and then every year after age five says, Sitter.
According to the Canadian Association of Optometrists, annual checkups are covered by provincial health insurance for kids, except in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and the Northwest Territories. But, in many cases, private health plans will cover vision services.
Here are 4 common Eye problems in Kids
1. A lazy or misaligned eye
Strabismus, or misaligned eyes, occurs when one eye turns in, out, up or down, putting it out of alignment. In cases where the eye is chronically misaligned, amblyopia, also knows as the lazy eye, can develop as well. “Lazy eye is caused by a significantly reduced vision in one eye and affects about five percent of kids,” says Sitter.
Both conditions can go unnoticed outside of an eye exam. The good news is they can be corrected with glasses or a temporary eye patch, especially if diagnosed in the preschool years before the brain learns to compensate for the problem permanently.
2. Red or dry eyes
“Computer vision syndrome is something I regularly see in my office,” says Sitter. Too much time playing video games or on smartphones is a common culprit for kids, and the outcome is complaints of dry, red, itchy eyes. The cure: Cut back on screen time and enforce the 20-20-20 rule, she says. “That’s where they take a break for 20 seconds every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away.” This will relax their eyes and restore standard blinking patterns, lubricating their peepers. Over-the-counter eye drops can provide added relief for this common kids’ eye problem— ask your eye doctor or pharmacist for a recommendation.
3. Refractive errors
Nearsightedness (which means difficulty seeing far away) is most common in school-age kids. Far-sightedness (poor vision up close) and astigmatism (a curvature of the eye that distorts vision) are also common problems, and all three issues can be corrected with glasses. Keep in mind that as your kid grows — and her eyes do, too — her prescription is likely to change. Regular annual visits to the eye doctor will ensure that she’s always seeing at her best.
4. Pink Eyes
Red eyes can also signal pink eye (conjunctivitis), inflammation caused by a bacterial or viral infection, or by allergies. The contagious form of pink eye can quickly spread on kids’ hands from one eye to another and from kid to kid. Your optometrist or pediatrician can diagnose it and prescribe antibiotic drops if necessary. Frequent hand washing and keeping fingers away from their eyes can stop spreading. Over-the-counter medicated eye drops can provide some relief for non-contagious flare-ups.