August is children’s eye health and safety month! As a mother of a one-year-old, and knowing a baby at my church who was recently diagnosed with retinoblastoma, this one is dear to my heart. Most parents do not understand the significance of eye exams for their children. But as optometrists, we know how important they are. We know that some children who are struggling in school, are labeled with learning disabilities, or are called lazy actually may be having difficulties with their vision. Disorders such as amblyopia and strabismus can make it very difficult for children to succeed in school, and many go undetected. In infants, vision problems may lead to delayed developmental milestones like crawling and walking. A study found that 1 in 5 preschool children have a vision problem and 1 in 4 school aged children need to wear glasses. Here is a list of things we can remind parents to look out for:
- Squinting one eye
- Poor depth perception
- Constant eye rubbing
- Chronic tearing
- Extreme light sensitivity
- White pupillary reflex
The American Optometric Association recommends that every child have their first eye exam between 6 months and 1 year old. At this age, treatment for amblyopia or other vision disorders are easily treated. For this reason, the InfantSee program offers no-cost eye exams to children between 6 months and 1 year old, no matter the parents’ income. If your office is not equipped to see children, please refer your patients with children to InfantSee.org to find a doctor near them. It is also important to remind patients that a vision screening at school, or a visual acuity check at the pediatrician’s office is not a replacement for a comprehensive eye exam. Many screenings screen for refractive error, and not ocular health. As we know, babies should have a dilated exam, most importantly to check for retinoblastoma. As I mentioned above, a child at my church who is the same age as my daughter, was recently diagnosed with retinoblastoma at a routine eye exam. She, unfortunately, lost her eye, but we are hoping that the early diagnosis saved her life.
As optometrists, we have the ability to completely change a child’s life by giving them the gift of sight, giving them comfortable vision by treating binocular disorders, or even saving their life. Please help me in spreading the word about the importance of childrens’ eye health!