Children rarely complain about their sight, but often there may be a problem with their vision shown through their behaviour. This can include:
- sitting too close to the TV
- rubbing their eyes a lot
- holding objects very close to their face
- blinking a lot
- one eye turning either in or out
- they are clumsy or have poor hand and eye co-ordination
- your child avoids reading, writing or drawing
- they screw up their eyes or frown when they read or watch TV
- they have behavior or concentration problems at school
- they don’t do as well as they should at school
- they complain about blurred or double vision, or they have unexplained headaches.
Once your child's vision has been checked, it's important to continue with regular sight tests. Your child should have a check-up at least every two years, as problems can occur at any age. Even if none of the symptoms described above are displayed, there could still be an underlying eye condition.
If you're concerned about your child's vision, arrange an appointment with a local optometrist, they will see children of any age. Many concerns can be resolved completely by the optometrist without the need to refer your child to a specialist. Don't worry about the costs, as all NHS sight tests are free of charge for children under the age of 16 and under the age of 19 if in full time education.
Children’s eye examinations are important because many children will not realise they have reduced vision, and parents will not normally be able to see it by just looking at the child. There is an orthoptist-led service on school entry to assess childrens vision between the ages of four and five, but this is not the only eye examination your child needs.
The earlier any problems are picked up, the better the outcome. If you have any concerns about your child's eyes or there is a history of squint or lazy eye in the family, it's important you do not wait for the vision screening at school. Take your child to an optometrist for an eye examination.
Children do not have to be able to read to have their eyes examined. It's possible to see whether the child has a squint or needs glasses without asking them any questions, using age-appropriate tests and equipment.
Eye examinations do not hurt. It might be necessary to put drops in your child's eyes so they can be tested to see if they need glasses and that the backs of the eyes are healthy. If this is the case for your child, it will be discussed with you in advance.
The light coming into the eye needs to be focused on the back of the eye (the retina) for you to see clearly. Some people have eyes that are too short, which means the light focuses behind the retina (they are long-sighted). This means that they have to focus more than they should do, particularly on things that are close up. Other people have eyes which are too long, so the light focuses in front of the retina (they are short-sighted). This means that they cannot see things clearly if they are far away from them (such as the TV or board at school). Both conditions can run in families and both are easily treated with glasses.
If your eye is shaped more like a rugby ball than a football, light rays are focused on more than one place in the eye, so you don’t have one clear image. This may make it hard to tell ‘N’ from ‘H’, for instance. Glasses which correct this may make a child feel strange at first, although their vision with the glasses will be clear. Astigmatism often occurs together with either long- or short-sight and glasses are used to make the focus clear.
About 2-3% of all children have a lazy eye, clinically known as ‘amblyopia’. This may be because they have one eye that is much more short- or long- sighted than the other, or they may have a squint (where the eyes are not looking in the same direction). If you notice your child appears to have a squint after they are six weeks old, you should have their eyes tested by an optometrist as soon as possible.
The sooner the child is treated, the more likely they are to have good vision. It is more difficult to treat a lazy eye if the eyesight has finished developing (usually around the age of seven), although it may still be possible to significantly improve the vision in the weaker eye. Don’t expect your child to tell you if there is a problem. Children assume that the way they see is normal – they will not have known anything different.
If it is simply because the child needs glasses, the optometrist will prescribe these to correct sight problems.
If a child has a squint, this may be fully or partially corrected with glasses. However, some children may need an operation to straighten the eyes, which can take place as early as a few months of age.
If a child has a lazy eye, eye drops or patching the other eye encourage them to use the lazy eye to make it see better.
Whether a child needs glasses or not is because of the shape and size of their eyes.
Wearing glasses will not change their eye shape, and will not make your child’s eyes worse.
If your child has a lazy eye, wearing glasses may make their sight permanently improve.
Your optometrist will tell you how often and when your child should wear their glasses.
Around one in 12 men and one in 200 women has some sort of problem with their colour vision. If you suspect that your child has a colour-vision problem, or if there is a family history of colour-vision problems, ask your optometrist about it. There is no cure, but you can tell your child’s teachers, so that they use colours appropriately.
An eye examination for you child can discover a range of possible problems that can be remedied. The early the problem is discovered the better the final out come.