August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month
August 4, 2021
The new school year is officially upon us. According to Prevent Blindness, the oldest eye health and safety nonprofit in the United States (and the organization that designated August as Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month), one of the best ways to help students do well in the classroom is to make sure that they can see everything okay. Almost 3 percent of children under the age of 18 are blind or visually impaired, which means they struggle to see even when they wear contact lenses or glasses. Luckily, there are several steps everyone can take to promote children’s eye health and safety and to make sure that kids have the best chance to see clearly.
Common Eye Problems in Children
The National Eye Institute, or NEI, reports that some of the most common vision problems in infants, children and teens include:
- Refractive errors, like hyperopia, astigmatism, and myopia. These types of conditions happen when the shape of a person’s eye prevents light from focusing correctly on the retina. Altogether, more than 150 million Americans suffer from various refractive errors of the eyes. One of the most common symptoms of a refractive error like astigmatism, myopia, or hyperopia is blurred vision, though myopia makes far-away objects appear blurry, hyperopia makes nearby objects appear blurry, and astigmatism can make far-away and nearby objects appear blurry or distorted. Though blurred vision is one of the most common symptoms of refractive errors, others include double vision or hazy vision, squinting, frequent headaches, eye strain (when your eyes feel tired or sore), difficulty focusing when reading or looking at a computer, and seeing a glare or halo around bright lights. Some of the most common ways to treat refractive errors are glasses or contacts. In some cases, doctors may recommend surgical repair.
- Amblyopia (lazy eye). Amblyopia develops from a breakdown in how the brain and the eye work together, which results in the brain not recognizing sight from one eye. The condition often worsens over time, as the brain relies more on the stronger eye to see and less on the weaker one. Amblyopia is the most common cause of vision loss in children; up to 3 out of 100 kids have it. The good news is that early treatment is typically effective and can prevent long-term vision problems. Children with amblyopia may have poor depth perception, or a hard time determining how near or far something is. They may also show signs like shutting one eye, tilting their head, or squinting to see. Treatments for amblyopia include wearing an eye patch on the stronger eye to force to brain to use the weaker eye and putting special drops in the stronger eye.
- Crossed eyes (or strabismus), which occurs when the eyes are not lined up properly and point in different directions. In some cases, one eye may point straight ahead while the other eye turns in, up, out, or down. Strabismus can shift from one eye to another. Some common causes of strabismus include premature birth, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and hydrocephalus, or an excess of fluid in the brain. Individuals with strabismus often experience double vision and problems with depth perception. Treatment for strabismus includes glasses, eye patches, and sometimes, surgical repair.
Sports and recreation-based injuries are also a common cause for eye problems in children. Every year, thousands of children and teens are treated in emergency departments for sports and recreation-related eye injuries. Some of the most frequently sustained injuries include:
- Corneal abrasions, which result from a scratch on the clear part (cornea) of the eye. While most corneal abrasions are minor and will resolve themselves, it is important to have a doctor take a look to decide the best course of treatment.
- Acute hyphema, or bleeding in the space between the cornea and the iris. Blunt trauma causes this type of injury, which is a serious condition that requires medical intervention.
- Subconjunctival hemorrhage. This condition often presents as a flame-shaped bruise in the white part (sclera) of the eyeball and results from an abrasion or scratch. It is typically a mild injury that resolves itself within two weeks.
- Punctured eyeball. This happens when a sharp object tears the sclera or cornea of the eye. Similarly to acute hyphema, a doctor needs to examine this injury.
Warning Signs of Vision Problems in Kids
Sometimes, children show different symptoms of eye problems than adults do, especially when they are particularly young and their language is too limited to elaborate clearly on what precisely is bothering them. According to Prevent Blindness, when a children displays some of the following symptoms it could indicate that he or she is experiencing eye and vision problems:
- Squints eyes or frowns
- Rubs eyes a lot
- Closes or covers one eye
- Tilts head or thrusts head forward to see
- Has trouble reading or doing other close-up work
- Holds objects close to the eyes to see
- Blinks more than usual or seems cranky when doing close-up work
- Says things are blurry or difficult to see
Eye Exam Recommendations
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that all children have an eye exam during the newborn period and again at each routine well-child visit. The academy also recommends children undergo vision screening at ages 3, 4, 5, and 6. After the age of 6, the AAP recommends a screening every 1 to 2 years. A specialist like an optometrist or ophthalmologist should examine a child of any age if he or she has:
- Signs of misaligned eyes, lazy eye, or nearsightedness
- A red, swollen, or cloudy eye
- A family history of eye problems, particularly genetic eye diseases like eye malformations, retinal degeneration, optic atrophy, and congenital cataracts
Prevent Blindness provides parents and caregivers with numerous resources, like helpful fact sheets, that they can use to promote their children’s eye health and safety. If you have a legal question or concern, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.
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