Your child's eyes are their windows to the world. Much like their speech and motor skills, vision is a critical part of a child's development – and there's plenty that parents can do to promote healthy eyesight for their kids for years to come.
While a pediatrician can perform general eye health screenings for newborns and visual acuity tests with infants, parents shouldn't wait too long to have kids undergo more formal eye testing. Dr. Glen Bianchi, pediatric ophthalmologist at Westwood Ophthalmology Associates, recommends a baseline eye exam with an ophthalmologist around age 5, and then every two or three years after that, if test results are normal.
According to Dr. Joseph D. Napolitano, pediatric ophthalmologist at Omni Eye Services with a location in Rochelle Park, less than five percent of children develop eye problems that require treatment. However, it's not uncommon for a child's teacher to report a potential vision problem when a student is unable to see the chalkboard or holds books too close to his face, or if grades begin to slip. While these and other obvious indicators – headaches, squinting or turning the head to preferentially see out of one eye – could warn parents of a vision problem, some of the most common problems in children can only be detected through eye screenings.
Some common problems in children include nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism, while others can be more serious if not treated early. Amblyopia (also known as lazy eye) occurs when the eye does not develop properly – and if it's not detected and treated by the age of 9 or 10, the weak eye will always remain weak, says Bianchi.
"Amblyopia is the number one reason for vision loss in childhood – more than all of the other causes put together," Napolitano warns. It can be treated with glasses or eye patching. "A child may hit all developmental milestones, and her eyes may look straight, but sometimes the brain simply starts to favor one eye."
Strabismus, or crossed eyes, is another common childhood vision deficiency that's caused when eyes are misaligned, and must be caught early for treatment to be most effective.
• Wear sunglasses
• Use protective eyewear for sports
• Adjust eyeglass fit frequently
If you've ever scolded your son or daughter for sitting too close to the television, rest assured that there's probably no harm done. According to Dr. Bianchi, time spent watching television, reading or playing on the computer has little effect on a child's vision development; in fact, Dr. Napolitano notes that video games are often used to help treat children with amblyopia.
You know the one about eating carrots for healthy eyes? While carrots do contain nutrients that promote eye health, there is still no conclusive evidence that a child's diet plays a significant role in visual development – nor does their affinity for watching hours of cartoons on Saturday morning.
"None of these activities have been proven harmful to a child's visual development," Napolitano says.