Why it's so important for babies and children to have eye tests on a regular basis.
Just like adults, children perceive about 80% of their impressions via the eyes. Therefore, good, clear vision is essential for children’s development. What should parents know before visiting the eye care professional for the first time? BETTER VISION gives you some tips on finding the perfect solution for young eyeglass wearers.
The First Eyesight Test
Strange as it may sound, it's never too soon to have children's eyes examined. It's not always easy to detect whether or not a child has impaired vision. Parents generally notice if a child is having problems walking before they notice any vision problems. Babies and young children are not able to detect or communicate their impairment. Even older children have a limited ability to differentiate clear from fuzzy. Usually, parents only notice if a children visual acuity is dramatically reduced by more than 60%.
However, the earlier vision impairments are corrected among children and infants, the better and more successful the correction will be. Remember that binocular vision can only fully develop when the image on the retinas of both eyes is equally sharp. Similar to learning to walk and speak, babies and young children learn how to see through constant practice. Except that with vision, it happens much earlier, since the process of acquiring visual experience starts right from the first time a newborn baby opens its eyes.
Children should have their first eye test within the first ten days of life. Correcting vision problems early, when the eye is not yet fully formed, is more successful than correcting them later. In addition, certain visual impairments that cannot be corrected later can be minimized, or even wholly avoided, if detected and treated early.
Premature babies in particular often have visual impairments due to the reduced time spent developing in the mother's womb. For them, visual acuity should be checked while the baby is still in the incubator. For babies and young children, the exam is performed using an objective procedure called the skiascopy measurement of visual acuity, where the doctor places a drop of atropine derivative into the child's eye.
This dilates the pupil and disables accommodation (accommodation is the eye's ability to adjust in order to make objects at different distances appear sharply on the retina), which allows the doctor to pinpoint any potential visual impairments. Glasses or even contact lenses can be prescribed and adapted for premature babies, full-term babies and young children. Special frames and lenses are now feasible for even the smallest faces; some are even custom-produced by eye care professionals.
After the first examination, parents should have their children's vision tested regularly – ideally once a year. It's also recommended for parents to observe their children's eyes and their visual behavior. The eye care professional should be consulted if changes occur, such as strabismus, frequent rubbing of the eyes, lack of eye contact, cataracts, blinking, or, among school-age children, the need to hold the paper too close when reading or writing, and copying incorrectly from the board.
Choosing an eye care professional
Just like the choice of pediatrician, eye care professionals should be chosen carefully with a view to how they treat young and older children. Always consider how child-friendly the physician or eye care professional is and how much experience he or she has with children. There is nothing worse than when the therapist makes your child feel afraid. Glasses should never be presented to children as something negative or awkward.
Instead, emphasize that glasses are a great thing! Glasses can make magic: all of a sudden, you can see tiny things. As well as a friendly and easy-going manner with children, the specialist's expertise is obviously a decisive factor. Make sure that they first perform a child-friendly yet complete initial assessment (medical history).
As for adults, the eye care professional should speak with you and your child specifically about the situations in which the vision problems usually occur, the situations in which the child will need the glasses the most, whether the child is very active, plays a lot of sports, reads a lot (including in bed during the evening by twilight), etc. The more specific you and your child are about these daily habits, the better it will be when selecting and adjusting the visual aid.
The eye care professional should be prepared to have time and patience when consulting with you and your child. Listen to what the child wants when choosing the frames. Avoid compulsion – ideally the child should take the glasses and put them on him or herself. Ask for detailed information about lens refinements, such as coatings for increased hardness or anti-reflectivity.
These additional coatings don't have to cost a lot more, and they can make the glasses more durable – and your child’s visual experiences more pleasant. Look for shatter-proof lenses and frames with temples and nose bridges which are safe for children.
A professional cleaning or inspection as to whether the glasses are sitting correctly, plus any necessary correction, is very useful, especially for active children, and also increases the glasses' service life.