Caring for young eyes
Most very young children have their eyesight assessed as part of routine developmental checks. While these are very important, they aren’t as thorough as a complete eye test by a qualified optician. So we recommend that your child has their eyes tested from an early age.
Testing before your son or daughter goes into full-time education means that any problems that they may have are identified early, setting them up for a happy and fulfilling school life. That’s because not being able to see clearly can be confusing in a busy classroom.
Poor eyesight can cause learning and behavioural problems, which might be blamed on other things. This is especially true for young children, who may find it difficult to explain the difficulties they are having with their eyesight. They may not even be aware they have a problem at all.
And of course the sooner that vision problems are detected, the better the outcome. Conditions such as squint and amblyopia (lazy eye) can be treated more effectively if they are picked up earlier, which could make a huge difference to your child.
Signs of eye problems in children
Children develop full vision in each eye over the course of their first year. Young babies can't see beyond a few feet and there's nothing to worry about if they can't recognise your face from a distance for their first three or four months.
Watery eyes are also common in young babies as the ducts that carry the tears away from the surface of their eyes are not fully open for the first few months. If this problem doesn't clear up by your child's first birthday, it's best to get it checked out with your GP.
More serious eye problems that need advice from your optician or GP include persistent or recurring eye infections, or if you notice your baby's eyes do not move together perfectly, e.g. when looking at an object straight ahead one eye is pointed slightly outward (squint).
When your child is three or four, if they have difficulty recognising shapes, colours or showing no interest in pictures in storybooks, your opticians should have the necessary tests to conduct a full eye examination.
Your child doesn't have to be able to read to have their sight tested.
Things to look out for
It’s often difficult to tell whether your child has sight problems, which is why regular eye tests are so important. There are a number of things to look out for:
- Straining their eyes or tilting their head to see better
- Frequent eye rubbing
- Losing their place while reading, or using a finger to guide their eyes
- Sensitivity to light and/or excessive tearing
- Falling behind in school
- Complaining of headaches or tired eyes
- The presence of a “turn” in the eye or a misdirection of the eyes
- Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
- Avoiding activities which require near vision, such as reading or homework, or distance vision, such as participating in sports or other recreational activities
- Closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better
- Avoiding using a computer or tablet because it hurts their eyes
- A “white reflex” in photographs. This is similar in appearance to red-eye, except it’s white. It is extremely serious – if you notice it, you should seek medical attention immediately.