Understanding children's sight
Monitoring your own eyesight is easy; you know exactly what you can see, and you’re aware of any changes that might occur. You’re also likely to know when you need vision correction – be that laser eye surgery, glasses or contacts – and you know how to communicate your visual problems. With your children, however, the story is entirely different. Especially with younger children, it’s up to you to notice any variations in their behaviour which might indicate changes in their sight, and know what to look out for. Some of the most common sight issues faced by children include myopia (short-sightedness), a squint, and amblyopia (a lazy eye). We’ll talk about some of the symptoms of these conditions and what you, as parents and carers, can do to give them the best start.
You are what you eat
A good diet is important for people of all ages, but especially for children. We’ve written previously about the top 10 foods for healthy eyes and it’s crucial to ensure that your children are getting all the vitamins and nutrients they need to promote good eyesight. Meals with fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish contain vitamins C and E, as well as zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and lutein. All of these are linked to eye health, especially for young, developing eyes. If your child is a particularly fussy eater, try to swap out some processed favourites for more natural alternatives, such as sweet potato instead of chips, and brown wholegrain bread instead of a white loaf.
As unpopular as they are with children, leafy greens are also hugely beneficial for eyes. They contain vitamin A and beta carotene, encouraging blood flow to the eyes and shielding them from damaging light – both UV rays and blue light from screens. In a time when screen use is at an all-time high, getting this into your child’s diet couldn’t be more beneficial.
Tests aren’t just for school
The importance of regular eye tests can never be overstated. We’ve previously written about the risks of missing your eye tests, which you should be having every two years. By having your eyes examined, a multitude of eye conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis and even Alzheimer’s can be picked up. Children usually have their sight tested at a general check-up when they’re six weeks old, and should certainly have another test between their third birthday and starting school. Before they turn 16 years old, children are entitled to a free eye test every two years on the NHS, so make the most of this!
More and more children are becoming myopic (short-sighted) than ever, and it appears to be happening earlier on in their development. The earlier a child develops myopia, the more capacity it has to get worse over the coming years, throughout the rest of their childhood, and into adulthood. This can lead to cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment, but the earlier it’s detected, the earlier myopia control measures can be introduced. This slows the progression of myopia and reduces overall future risks. Poor eyesight in children also affects their learning at school and can hinder their involvement in sports and other activities too. 80% of what children learn in school is taught visually! Eye tests are important at any age, but particularly for children to identify and treat any congenital issues early on.
Summer holiday eye care
With the summer holidays fast approaching, it’s likely that your children will be spending more time in the great outdoors, soaking up the sunshine. It goes without saying that you’ll be liberally applying the sun cream on them, but have you thought about sunglasses? There are a number of conditions which can begin to affect your eyes if they are exposed too much to the sun, and we’ve written an article all about the symptoms of these, and how to avoid their development. Children spend a lot of time outside playing and, according to some sources, up to half a person’s lifetime exposure to UV rays can occur before the age of 18.
This is clear evidence to show that your children will need to be wearing sunglasses this summer. Thankfully, all sunglasses sold in the UK and Europe must block 99-100% of UV rays, providing the top level of protection. This means you can be sure that your children will have a lower risk of damaging their eyes due to sun exposure. Being outside is important for children in many ways, not least as it lowers their risk of developing myopia (becoming short-sighted). Too much time spent indoors doesn’t allow the eye to focus on objects a great distance away, sometimes causing it to lose that ability, thus bringing on myopia at a young age. Make sure your children get outside this summer and enjoy the fresh air, but don’t let them forget their sunglasses!
What to look out for
Children can’t always communicate when they’re not seeing properly, especially if it’s a condition they’ve had from a young age – they might not know much different. Myopia is becoming an epidemic, with 20% of teenagers and 30% of adults suffering from it. Experts predict that 50% of the world’s population will be short-sighted by 2050. In fact, among children in the UK, myopia is twice as common as it was 50 years ago, and this number is only rising. It’s important to know the symptoms of poor eyesight in your child. If you notice the following behaviour from them, take them for an eye test:
- Complaining of dry eyes,
- Mentioning blurred vision
- Rubbing their eyes
- Sitting close to the TV or holding their books close
- Short attention span
- Sensitive to light
Eye care for pregnancy
Everyone knows that your lifestyle in pregnancy has a huge impact on the foetus’s development. This is anything from your diet, to exercise, to smoking and drinking. Pregnant women who smoke put their unborn babies at risk of developing all kinds of conditions, but some of the most serious of these are eye-related. The toxins in the smoke can prevent the baby’s optic nerve from forming properly in the womb. This is the number one cause of blindness in children. Babies exposed to tobacco smoke via the placenta in the womb are also at higher risk of being born with strabismus (crossed eyes) and having a squint.
It goes without saying that in order to give your child the best chance at good eyesight and overall eye health, smoking is something that pregnant women should avoid. A child’s eyes start developing in the womb and continue to do so until the age of eight, so the mother’s lifestyle before the birth can have knock-on effects for the rest of the child’s life.