Where do we start with kids’ eye health?
As with most things, age has a big impact, so being aware of what’s considered ‘normal’ for your child’s age, and what are the red flags to look out, is vital. “Look out for any sign of a problem with visual development, as the connection between eye and brain is being built up until age of seven,” advises Rachna. “This could include a droopy lid, an in or out-turning eye (squint) or a difference in the focusing power between each eye.”
Getting to the bottom of issues with vision and overall eye health is far easier when they can talk, but in younger children and babies there are still signs that might indicate the need for an expert opinion. “Frequent eye rubbing or irritation can be due to a number of causes including blepharitis and dry eye caused by eyelid inflammation or allergy or hay fever,” says Jonathan. Although allergies may sound like a benign issue, don’t be tempted to wait until the problem passes. “If left untreated this can cause keratoconus in some kids. This is a cone shaped rather than round front of the eye and will limit vision if not treated,” he warns.
And finally, next time you’re scrolling through your camera roll, keep an eye out for anything that doesn’t look right, such as any funny reflexes on photos. “Very occasionally a child will have a white rather than red pupil in photos. If that happens, it can be normal but it’s best to get the inside of the eye checked out to make sure it’s not a cataract or a growth inside the eye,” recommends Jonathan.
When do we need to worry about a child’s eyes?
Although it’s easy to spiral into a state about lots of things when you’re a parent, it’s important to trust your instinct. If your child has had a screen-heavy day or a late night, a little eye rubbing the next day is to be expected. In the UK, children’s eyes are routinely checked at birth, at the postnatal check-up and then again at the start of primary school, which is adequate for most kids. “The first six weeks are a critical period and that is why kids are checked at birth and by health visitors – to ensure the important early brain to eye connections are made,” explains Jonathan. If you are worried by more unusual or persistent signs presenting themselves, it might be time to seek help from your GP or local optician. “Any turn in the eye, redness, frequent watering or unusual light reflex in the photos should always be checked out,” says Jonathan.
How can screen time impact kids’ eyesight?
We’re all aware of the potential damage that too much screen time can have on developing brains, but its effect on eye health is huge. Although it’s a global issue, largely exacerbated by an increase in screentime during the pandemic’s lockdowns, UK figures are worrying across the board. According to a study by the Journal of the College of Optometrists, cases of myopia (short-sightedness) between 2015 and 2022 not only rose among 10-16-year-olds but also among children aged 4-5.
“Screens also emit blue light and can affect kids sleeping patterns by interfering with the internal body clock,” adds Jonathan. To combat this, set limits on how much screentime your child has access to – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recommendation is two hours as an upper limit for all children – and make sure that they factor plenty of time outside into their spare time. Studies have shown that increasing their visual field by looking at things in the far distance (and thus reducing the time spent narrowing their gaze on screens) can help prevent myopia.
Are glasses the only option if there’s a sight issue?
If your child has been diagnosed with sight issue, it’s a good idea to talk through their options with their optometrist. Although glasses are usually recommended to children who haven’t yet reached adolescence, contact lenses are not out of the question. “Glasses can be worn from any age, but the most common age for wearing contact lenses is between the ages of 11 and 14,” says Rachna. “Depending on the maturity of the kid and whether they can handle the responsibility and care required of removal and reinsertion, children as young as eight may be able to wear them.”
What can I do if my child has a squint?
If you suspect your child has a squint – what might look like them squeezing one eye slightly shut – or one eye that turns slightly outward or inward, seek expert help as soon as you can. “For adults this is a cosmetic issue only but in children it can affect the connections developing between the eye and the brain,” says Dr Roos. “A squint or strabismus can be due to a difference in the prescription or focusing ability between the two eyes,” explains Dr Murthy. “Early detection and patching of the eye that sees better will encourage the eye with poorer vision to be used, strengthen the eye muscles and improve the visual development.’ While glasses and eye exercises and sometimes surgery is also helpful.” In more extreme cases corrective surgery can help as can treatment with neurotoxin. “Interestingly the cosmetic use of neurotoxin was discovered by ophthalmologists as we were the first to be using such injections around the eyes, says Dr Roos.
How do I navigate the options available?
If your child has been diagnosed with sight issue, it’s a good idea to talk through their options with their optometrist. Although glasses are usually recommended to children who haven’t yet reached adolescence, contact lenses are not out of the question if that’s a route they want to go down. “Glasses can be worn from any age, but the most common age for wearing contact lenses is between the ages of 11 and 14,” says Dr Murthy. “Depending on the maturity of the kid and whether they can handle the responsibility and care required of removal and reinsertion, children as young as eight may be able to wear them.” Although it needn’t be a life-changing event, getting glasses can feel overwhelming for children, especially older children who may worry about standing out. “Show them they’re not alone by pointing out friends and family or celebrities that wear them,” suggests Dr Murthy. “Throughout pop-culture, prescription glasses have historically been associated with nerdy or geeky side-characters, but in recent years this has changed with characters such as Harry Potter, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran and Selena Gomez all wear prescription glasses.”
How can I get my child to wear their glasses?
Although it needn’t be a life-changing event, getting glasses can feel overwhelming for children, especially older children who may worry about standing out. “Show them they’re not alone by pointing out friends and family or celebrities that wear them,” suggests Rachna. “Throughout pop culture, prescription glasses have historically been associated with nerdy or geeky side-characters, but in recent years this has changed with the likes of Harry Potter, Demi Lovato, Ed Sheeran and Selena Gomez all wearing prescription glasses.”
To get younger children to make glasses a habit that sticks, approach it in the same way you would potty or sleep training. “Use positive reinforcement rewards to encourage wear, like sticker or reward charts to help them remember to wear their glasses,” suggests Rachna. Making your child feel a part of what’s happening can also help negate any feelings of overwhelm and worry, and can go a long way to reassuring them and reframing the whole process into a more positive experience. “Let your child decide and involve them in choosing their frames,” says Jonathan. “This can be an engaging experience and there are many fun glasses brands to choose from.”
How can I support my child’s eye health in the long term?
Maintaining good eye health overall could mean scheduling regular visits to the optometrist or the ophthalmologist, encouraging healthy eyesight habits like good lighting while reading or studying, or balancing screen time with plenty of time spent outdoors.
Ensuring your child has a nutrient-rich diet is also key as certain vitamins and minerals are known to reduce the risk of chronic eye diseases and slow the progression of others. “Foods rich in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E can help support good eye health,” says Dr Roos. That means stocking up on foods such as green leafy vegetables, fish, and fruits like oranges, grapefruit and strawberries.
For more from our experts, visit FaceRestoration.com