Published in Child's Magazine: Seeing Clearly – What you Need to Know

80% of vision is done through your eyes.  Statistics show that 1 out of 6 children have a vision problem that can significantly impair vision.  This is why it is important for parents to bring in their children for yearly eye examinations with their optometrists.  Alberta Health Care covers 1 comprehensive eye examination per year with your Optometrist for children under the age of 18 years.

At what age should a child start to have their first eye exam

The Alberta Association of Optometrists recommends children should have their first eye exam at the age of 6 months during infancy.  The sooner we can see the infant, the sooner we can detect and diagnose any eye conditions that may be present.  Treatment outcomes are better when the child is younger.  A good example is amblyopia or “lazy eye”, a condition where the vision in one eye doesn’t develop properly in early childhood.  This may be caused by misaligned eyes (called strabismus) or because one eye is out of focus compared with the other. When this happens, the brain ‘shuts off’ the eye that is out of focus, and the child depends only on the better eye to see.  The key to successful treatment of amblyopia, is early detection.  If left untreated, amblyopia persists into adulthood and will become a permanent visual problem.

What do you test for in an eye exam

An eye exam is different from a vision screening done at your doctor’s office or at the nurse’s office in school.  40% of children who pass a vision screener fail their eye exam because vision is more than being able to 20/20.  The exam takes into account the ocular and medical history of the child and their family, the vision potential of each eye, the vision skills required for learning: eye focusing, eye coordination, eye tracking, depth perception and color vision, and the health of the eyes.  Children do not have to be able to read or recognize the alphabet as we have pictures, shapes and symbols they can identity.  For infants, we are primarily using our objective findings to ensure the eyes have developed well.

What symptoms should parents/teachers be monitoring for when a child is in school

It is really important for parents and children to be aware and monitor for signs and symptoms a child may be experiencing that could be impacting their learning.  Some of the more common signs include: blurry vision, double vision, squinting, holding material close to the eyes, headaches, eye strain,  a strabismus (turned eye), a head turn or tilt, closing or covering one eye, excessive blinking, rubbing and/or tearing, itching or burning of the eyes.

 Most parents are unaware of other signs and symptoms that are linked to vision and learning and those include:  a dislike of near work ex. Lego, drawing, a short attention span, day dreaming during work time, skipping word, letters or lines when reading or taking notes from the board, using their head or finger to track when reading instead of their eyes, difficulty remembering what they read, persistent letter reversals BDPQ, problems with laterality, not completing assignments on time, difficulty with geometric shapes, and poor hand-eye coordination. 

If your child is experiencing any of the following signs/symptoms, parents should bring this up with their Optometrist during an eye exam. Treatments such as vision therapy or reading programs may need to be initiated to help with the underlying vision problem.  Hence, it is critical for parents have their children’s eye checked before school starts to ensure their child has the best start to learning.

What is the Eye See Eye Learn Program 

The ESEL program was developed to raise awareness among teachers and parents of the importance of having their child’s eye eyes examined during the kindergarten year.  A form is completed by the Optometrists and the results are shared their family doctor and school.  If it is determined a child needs glasses during the kindergarten year, the child gets a free pair through the program.  For more information please refer to http://www.optometrists.ab.ca/eye-see-eye-learn

 Importance of UV protection

80% of UV damage occurs before the age of 18 years.  Parents should ensure their child is wearing their sunglasses year round.  The sunglasses should have 100% coverage for both UVA and UVB.  There are polarized kids sunglasses which reduce glare.  If a child is currently wearing glasses, we recommend having the transition coating in the lenses.  Just as you wouldn’t forget your child’s sunscreen, don’t forget their sunglasses!

At what age should children start wearing contact lenses

Physically, a child’s eyes can tolerate contact lenses at a very young age as infants are fit with contact lenses for congenital conditions.  A child’s maturity and their ability to handle contact the responsibility of the care and maintenance of contact lenses is more important than age alone.  For children who are involved in extracurricular activities such as sports, dancing, swimming, etc. daily disposable contact lenses are easy to maintain, reduce the risk of infection and the lenses are replaced daily or after the activity. 

How much time should a child be spending on a computer or playing video games

 It’s really important for children to have a balance between playing on the computer, getting enough sleep, eating a well-balanced diet, and playing outdoors or being involved with extracurricular activities.  Studies have shown that children who spend 2 hours or more on the computer are more likely to experience eye strain or fatigue which can increase their near sightedness.  In order to prevent eye strain, children should take frequent breaks from the computer.  Every 20 minutes your child should take their eyes off the computer and look at an object at least 20 feet away for a minimum of 20 seconds.  It’s a great habit to adopt for anyone who spends time on the computer.

Biography: Dr. Farrah Sunderji, OD completed her Optometry degree from the New England College of Optometry followed by a residency in Pediatrics and Vision Therapy at the Southern California College of Optometry.  She has been practicing in Calgary for the past 5 years and will be opening her own clinic EyedeologyTM Eyecare at the Centennial Clinic in November 2012 .

Calgarys Child Magazine 2012 Nov Dec


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Dr. Farrah Sunderji, OD