Children’s Eye Health: A handy guide for parents

Alice | Letters to my DaughterBlog, Child Health, Parenting & FamilyLeave a Comment

Do you give much thought to your child’s eye health? This week is National Eye Health Week in the UK. I know this because in my day job, I put together health campaigns for corporate clients, so have been researching for the last couple of months and getting campaigns ready to tie in with this week.

It got me thinking though, about how little I know about caring for my daughter’s eyes. When should I take her to the optician? Is there anything I should be actively doing to care for them? What do I do if something happens to her eyes?

So I did some more research specifically about children’s eye health, found out some interesting things and thought I’d share them for future reference for myself and other parents.

Without further ado, here’s a handy low down of what you need to know about looking after your child’s eyes (and your own!).

When should you first take your child to the optician?

According to Specsavers, unless you have concerns about your child’s vision, it’s OK to wait until they’re around 3 – 3 ½ for their first full eye test.

There are tests they can do on babies and toddlers if you are worried earlier than that.

It’s advisable to get your child’s vision tested when they reach school age to make sure there’s nothing going on that could affect them at school.

Optician’s appointments are free for children under 16, and they can also get free glasses (only selected frames – you’ll likely have to pay for the swanky ones).

Don’t they get free eye tests at school?

Some schools (c. 60%) offer vision screening, but this isn’t a full eye test, so you should still take them to the optician, and keep going once every 2 years.

My child’s vision is fine, do I still need to take them to the optician?

In a nutshell, yes. An optician doesn’t just check how well you can see, they also check the overall health of the eye and can detect problems before any symptoms occur. (This is why it’s also important for adults to go every 2 years as well)

As well as the usual identifying letters or shapes on a lightbox in the distance, a child’s eye test might also cover:

  • Check for lazy eyes
  • Check for coordination of the eyes
  • Check against expected levels of development for their age
  • Check of inside of eye (that’s when they shine the light in your eyes)
  • Family history
  • Other checks as required

Which optician should I use?

That’s entirely up to you. Eye tests are all much the same and a high street optician is just as suitable as a posh private practice.

Is there anything else I should be doing to actively care for my child’s eyes?

  • Make sure your child wears sunglasses with adequate UV protection whenever the UV index rises to 3 or more (look for the CE, UV 400 or British Standard marks). This could be on cloudy days too. 

Not convinced these meet the standards although they are endlessly cool! Will have to go sunglasses shopping

  • A balanced diet full of fruits and vegetables will ensure they have the right nutrients to support healthy eye development.
  • Get them outdoors, as research has shown spending time outside being active reduces the risk of certain eye problems.
  • Support the development of their eyes and eye muscles by offering age appropriate toys and activities to stimulate the eyes. Small babies can benefit from high contrast toys (black and white is great) – I used to move a black and white toy round in slow circles for D and she started to follow it with her gaze. I’d move it close to her nose then back out again – all good for exercising the eye muscles. Older children might benefit from games such as catch, or even playing games with their eyes such as trying to cross them or testing out their peripheral vision. Anything that gets their eyes moving around and focusing at different points is great.
  • Keep an eye on chemicals at home and make sure they’re kept out of reach of children to ensure they don’t come into contact with your child’s eyes.

Spending time outside reduces the risk of eye problems

Is there anything I should look out for to detect eye problems?

Some eye problems don’t have symptoms you’ll notice until the issue is much further advanced, which is why it’s important to see an optician at least once every 2 years. There are some symptoms that you can spot however, and may prompt you to take your child to the optician sooner than planned:

  • ‘Lazy eye’ or an eye that is drifting inward or outwards
  • Headaches
  • Rubbing their eyes a lot
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Behavioural problems
  • Sitting too close to the TV or insisting on watching TV in the dark
  • Blinking a lot
  • Holding objects very close to their face

What should I do if something happens to my child’s eyes?

It sounds silly, but I always used to worry when D was tiny about what I’d do if she got an eyelash in her eye, or I dropped a crumb in it during a breastfeeding/biscuit eating session, or if she scratched it with her tiny baby nails that would grow about 5cm over night (only a slight exaggeration!)

Luckily, none of this happened, but for other parents with the same concerns, here’s a quick overview with links to more info:

  • If there is a foreign body in the eye such as an eyelash or a bit of dust, you can often treat it at home by blinking/ touching a moistened cotton bud or clean cloth to the foreign body / rinsing the eye with water. Really good step by step half way down this page from Seattle Children’s Hospital 
  • Seek medical help if the foreign body is something sharp, if it has entered the eye at speed, or if you’ve removed it but the eye is still irritated after a little while. Also if the eye has suffered a big impact e.g. hard ball thrown at the eye at speed.
  • If the eye is just scratched, but not severely (e.g. by a finger nail), it will just need some time to heal. Talk to your child’s doctor to find out if pain killers are appropriate to ease discomfort.

If in doubt, seek medical advice! In the UK, if you’re really concerned but it’s out of hours for your GP,  you can call 111 from any phone at any time of day and speak to an NHS advisor who will advise the best course of action. It’s such a good service for those ‘I don’t know if this is serious or not’ moments when you’re really worried but it’s not a definite 999 scale emergency.

Finally…

I hope that has been useful in answering some of the questions you might’ve had about your child’s eye health, and you can feel more confident about caring for them. I find eye health is often overlooked, but vision is so important for children, helping them learn and discover the world around them. National Eye Health Week is a great initiative to bring focus on this topic and make is visible to more people (see what I did there?!)

There’s a ton of information about eye health on the National Eye Health Week website, and if you’re interested in further reading, all my sources are listed below.

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Lucy At Home

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