Does my child need an eye test
Our eyes are complex systems and they have their own mechanisms to protect themselves. For instance, our eyelids and eyelashes keep dirt out of the eye, and our tears help wash away any dirt that does get in (or in a toddlers case, help to get something we want!).
However, there are many things that can go wrong with eyes that our bodies cannot fix. This is why kids should have regular eye examinations as a routine part of growing up.
Getting eyes tested
Eye testing is a free service for all New Zealand children under 5, and it’s suggested that children get tested regularly as their sight can change rapidly in the early years.
Specsavers recommends that children should have their eyes tested by an optometrist by the age of three. Most young children have had their eyesight assessed as part of their routine development checks, however a complete eye test by a qualified optometrist is more thorough.
Eye tests for children are not invasive or painful. They usually involve bright lights, coloured lenses or charts, and will be conducted by an ophthalmologist or an optometrist who specialises in assessing children from birth onwards.
For newborns and infants there are tests that don't require any response or knowledge of numbers or letters.
Common eye conditions in kids
Most of the common eye problems affecting kids can be picked up during the pre-school years. The earlier a problem is detected the easier it will be to treat and, if picked up early enough, some potentially serious conditions can even be reversed.
Refractive errors are conditions that come about due to the way an individual eye is shaped. Images are blurred because the eye cannot focus properly. These refractive errors are commonly seen in children:
Astigmatism - means that there is something wrong with the curve of the cornea, making images blurry. Specially designed contact lenses and glasses can correct this problem.
Short-sightedness (Myopia) - means that people have trouble seeing things that are far away, but usually see things very well close up. Kids with this condition are usually prescribed glasses or contact lenses. Laser surgery is only an option as an adult
Long-sightedness (Hyperopia) - means that it is difficult to see objects that are close. Objects that are far away are generally seen without a problem. Again, glasses or contact lenses are the best form of treatment for this condition.
Other common childhood eye problems include:
Lazy Eye (Amblyopia) - a condition that is brought about by either a refractive error (see explanation above) or by crossed eyes. This problem can be detected in a routine pre-school eye examination and should be treated immediately to avoid irreversible damage.
Crossed Eyes (Strabismus) - occurs when the muscles around the affected eye do not work properly, causing each eye to look at a different object at the same time. Patching, glasses or surgery can fix this condition, which left untreated can also lead to lazy eye.
Signs of an eye problem
Your child may have an eye problem if they display any of the following symptoms:
- Constant tearing or redness of the eyes
- Frequent eye rubbing
- Light sensitivity
- Difficulty following an object with the eyes
- Crossed or misaligned eyes (after 6 months of age)
If your child is at school, some common signs of eye problems may include:
- Not being able to read the blackboard
- Headache complaints
- Squinting when trying to read
- Sitting very close to the TV