Every parent will remember the first time your baby locks eyes on you and starts to smile. It is one of the very first milestones a baby achieves. From the moment your baby is born, your child is learning to see.
As babies grow into busy toddlers, pre-schoolers and then school aged children, sight is a dominant sense and many parents are naturally concerned about the rise of vision problems in their children, especially if the onset begins at an early age. Below are three of the most common vision problems in children.
Myopia, or near sightedness, is the most common of vision problems in children. It is caused by a refractive error in the eye. Children with myopia will have problems seeing objects at a distance but can see well if objects are nearer, such as a computer screen. Symptoms of myopia include children squinting or having headaches. Myopia normally begins in childhood and children whose parents are myopic are at a higher risk of developing the condition.
“Although there is no treatment for hereditary-caused myopia, most myopia conditions can be controlled through lifestyle changes,” said Dr David Chong, Director of Optometric Services for the Mee Mee Optics Group of Companies in Singapore. “It is important for kids to be exposed habitually to distant vision in an outdoor environment. This will trigger an adaptation for the vision system for distant vision and when done correctly and over a long period of time, could control the progression of childhood myopia. Conversely, a short distant vision environment will trigger an adaptation to only close objects which may lead to myopia progression.”
A common parental hot topic when it comes to vision health for their kids is screen time. Dr Chong said that there is indeed a strong correlation between the amount of screen time and myopia in children.
“A balance of screen time (or any close works) with outdoor activities is very important in the healthy development of kids' vision. Optometrists generally recommend daily outdoor activities of at least one to two hours with occasional visual breaks of at least five to ten minutes after 45 minutes of screen time (close work),” he said.
Hyperopia is the opposite of myopia—meaning farsightedness. Children with this condition would have trouble seeing objects close to them but see objects at a distance clearly. The symptoms of the condition are similar to myopia, with people experiencing headaches, eyestrain or squinting to see. Similar to myopia, farsightedness can be corrected through use of glasses or contact lenses. Surgery is not recommended for children.
Like myopia and hyperopia, astigmatism is caused by a refractive problem in the eye where it does not focus the light correctly. Astigmatism also occurs early in a child’s life and it is important to note that studies have shown that Asian children have a higher prevalence of developing it.
Regardless of the type of eye condition your child might have, the best way to get it treated is to visit your family optician. Vision problems are one of most common sensory problems in children. As vision is a very important cognitive and functional aspect of kids' overall development, Dr Chong advises that kids, particular toddlers are being examined when they are twelve months old, and again at the age of three. All kids over the age of three should be professionally examined by an optometrist at least once every two years.
As for older kids, their visual ability and binocularity are almost fully developed by the age of ten. Any vision problems should be uncovered and intervened by optometrists within that age so that remedies or treatments can be started as soon as possible to avoid more serious implications.
D.Optom. BSc in Optometry
MSc in Clinical Optometry
Director of Optometric Services
Mee Mee Optics Group of Companies
Janice Zheng is a Melbourne-based writer and editor. Born and raised in Singapore, she has also lived in Vietnam, China and Australia. She has written and edited across a variety of genres including hard news, feature articles, technical and specifications writing and press releases. Her coverage of a 2009 Australian oil spill disaster and its impact on the marine environment earned her a nomination to the Professional Online Writers Guild. In 2013, her family moved to China for her husband’s work. She joined the expatriate women’s volunteer-based society and wrote prolifically for its print publications and contributed to other expatriate magazines. Since her return to Australia, Janice has turned to writing and blogging about parenthood.