Keeping Your Kids' Eyes Healthy

eye-health.jpg

All too often, parents only think of their children's eye health when a problem arises. This is unfortunate as by then, measures taken may probably already be remedial rather than being preventative.

The Philippine Society of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, an organization of Filipino ophthalmologists specializing in the prevention and treatment of childhood eye diseases, recommends that children undergo Pediatric Eye and Vision Screening (PEVS) as soon as they are born.

Dr. Norman Fajardo, a Pediatric Ophthalmologist and Adult Strabismus Specialist at the Asian Eye Institute, says, "The PEVS is usually performed during the first month of life. If a problem is detected or suspected, the primary care provider refers them to an ophthalmologist. Frequent PEVS as part of children's well baby visit is recommended to increase the chance of detecting an eye problem early."

Comprehensive eye exams are recommended for the following:

  • Premature infants
  • Infants and children with metabolic disorders
  • Infants and children with medical conditions known to have associated eye problems, such as Down’s Syndrome, idiopathic arthritis, and neurofibromatosis
  • Infants and children with history of squinting, head tilt, or head turn
  • Children with history of visual difficulties and learning problems
  • Infants and children with a family history of strabismus, amblyopia, cataract, glaucoma, retinoblastoma and ocular and systemic genetic diseases

Taking an eye exam

Dr. Fajardo says, "An eye examination detects eye and vision problems that may affect or impede a child’s learning and development. While the child’s eyes are still developing, it is important that these problems are detected and are managed or treated early to prevent permanent and irreversible damage."

At three years old, a child may undergo a Formal Vision Test to check if he is able to read well, says Dr. Fajardo. This particular test uses pictures to check for visual acuity. It may be performed in the context of a PEVS or a visit to an ophthalmologist's clinic.

Parents can prepare their child for an eye checkup by teaching him shapes (square, circle, heart, and house) and numbers (1 to 9), says Dr. Fajardo. These figures are what usually appear in the checkup.

During the visit, the eye doctor may also put some eye drops to dilate the pupils. This procedure allows the eye doctor to check for refractive errors and signs of eye disease. The drops can sting the child's eyes, making him uncomfortable. The little one may also become sensitive to light and experience blurred vision temporarily. The effects may last for a day, he says.

Catching eye problems

There are a number of eye problems which may affect children, says Dr. Fajardo. There is amblyopia, for example, where the brain ignores the images from the eye. Another eye condition involves refractive errors, leaving a child nearsighted, farsighted, or with astigmatism. Strabismus is a condition where the child has misaligned eyes. One eye may look straight ahead, while the other turns in, out, up or down. Lastly, there is leukocoria, where a white glow is observed through the pupil. This may be caused by a cataract, an intraocular tumor, or another disease in the eye.

Parents should watch out for these symptoms in their kids, says Dr. Fajardo, which may indicate an eye problem:

  • Sitting near the TV or holding a book too close
  • Rubbing eyes frequently
  • Squinting or tilting their head to see better
  • Frequent headaches
  • Experiencing extreme sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing
  • Having one eye turning in or out
  • A white glow observed through the pupil

Should your child be prescribed eyeglasses, it would be helpful to let him choose the frames himself. This would encourage him to wear his glasses. Get the recommendations of the optical staff as to eyewear appropriate to the needs and lifestyles of your child, he says.

He adds, "Sturdy and flexible frames are available in a variety of colors and shapes while some feature cartoon characters. Eyeglass straps are useful for children who play sports or tend to lose their glasses. You can also choose to place polycarbonate lenses that have UV protection, prevent glare, and are scratch-resistant."

Dr. Norman Fajardo completed his fellowship training in Pediatric Ophthalmology and Adult Strabismus at the Children’s Hospital Boston, Harvard Medical School. He is certified by the Education Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates and is a member of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.