Back to school? Back to the opticians!

02 September 2021

Author: Kate Green

back to school back to opticians

Classroom learning can highlight problems with vision

 

It’s that time of year again and parents across the country are likely breathing a sigh of relief as they drop their children off at the school gates. There can be so much to remember for the start of the new term with to-do lists as long as your arm and stress levels sky high. One thing that might have slipped your mind, however, is the importance of a trip to the opticians.

 

Six weeks of summer holidays is a long time and being away from the classroom might mean that any visual problems your child is experiencing are not quite as noticeable as during term time. Now it’s September, they’re back in an environment where they are expected to read the board from a distance, potentially bringing up issues with their sight that they didn’t notice during the summer holidays. 80% of what children learn in school is taught visually, so keeping on top of their eye health has never been more important.

 

Read on to discover which eye conditions are most common in children, signs that your child is struggling with their eyesight, and what to expect when you take them for an eye test.

 

Which eye conditions are most common amongst children?

 

Keeping an eye (no pub intended!) on your child’s vision is especially crucial as children often don’t – or can’t – articulate that they are experiencing visual issues. Issues which occur most frequently in young children include:

  • Strabismus (crossed eyes)
  • Amblyopia (lazy eye)
  • Chalazion (red, swollen lump)
  • Blocked tear duct (often the cause of watery eyes)
  • Conjunctivitis (eye infection)
  • Astigmatism (blurry vision at all distances)
  • Double vision (seeing two of everything)
  • Ptosis (drooping upper eyelid)

 

Some of these conditions, such as crossed or lazy eyes, are very visible and are likely to be things you notice yourself when looking at your child. However, with issues such as astigmatism and double vision, it is harder for you to realise that your child is suffering. Similarly, your child themself might not realise that anything is wrong if this is something they have been dealing with from a particularly young age and have grown used to over time.

 

How do you know if your child is suffering with their vision?

 

There are some tell-tale signs that are the perfect indicator that your child is having difficulty with one or more aspect of their vision. You should be on the lookout for:

Misaligned eyes: If your child’s eyes don’t always point in the same direction, it could be a sign of strabismus. If left untreated, this can develop into amblyopia (a lazy eye), and lead to poor vision in the affected eye. Once a child reaches around the ages of 9-10, any vision loss in the weaker eye is often permanent, so early detection and treatment is very important.

Tilting their head: This is often an indicator of the early stages of amblyopia. Tilting their head can help your child to change their angle of vision and focus better with their stronger eye.

Covering one eye: If your child covers one eye to help them focus, it’s probably because they have really poor vision in it. If this behaviour continues, it can develop into amblyopia, leading to the brain ignoring all visual signals from the affected eye. Patching the stronger eye forces the weaker eye to work harder and can be a very effective solution to combat this.

Rubbing their eyes: This may be a sign of eye strain and suggest that they need glasses. If your child regularly has to work to focus their vision, they are likely to experience some discomfort or eye pain which they try to relieve by rubbing their eyes.

Squinting: Squinting their eyes can help a child to focus on an object by changing the shape of their eye and reducing the amount of light entering the eye. However, this is only a temporary solution to improve their vision when they’re having difficulty focusing on a particular distance. Again, this is usually an indicator that your child might need glasses.

Sitting close to the TV: If your child is sitting close to the TV, or holding books or tablets close to their face to read, chances are they could be short-sighted (myopic). They may not know to communicate this with you if this type of vision is what they have always known, or if the deterioration of their sight has been gradual. The longer that myopia is left untreated, the worse it can become, so seeing an eye doctor quickly is important.

Missing lines whilst reading: Some people’s eyeballs aren’t shaped exactly round and appear more like the shape of a rugby ball, in a condition called astigmatism. Generally, the less round your eyeball is, the blurrier your vision is. Astigmatism can also distort vision, meaning that children who have an astigmatism might have trouble keeping their place when reading lines on a page. If your child frequently skips lines when reading, this might be an explanation.

General clumsiness: This one is simple; if your child is always bumping into doorways or missing objects which they’re reaching to pick up, it could just be that they’re not seeing things around them properly. Keep an eye on their behaviour and book them in for an eye test if you believe their clumsiness could be vision-related.

Short attention span: If your child struggles to adapt their visual focus for multiple distances at school, they might find it easier to just switch off and allow themselves to become distracted from the main task. An example of needing to switch visual focus could be needing good close-up vision for writing, and good distance vision for reading the whiteboard and screens. This struggle sometimes manifests itself as a lack of focus on schoolwork, but there could be more than meets the eye.

 

What to expect at a child’s eye test

 

Taking your child for an eye test every two years is advised in order to detect any vision problems they are having. Depending on whether any potential issues are found with their eyes, your optician may recommend that they come more often for regular checks.

 

While adults typically read from a Snellen chart with letters at an eye test, children’s eye tests often use pictures and patterns to assess their vision. This is because children’s reading abilities vary and they are likely to engage better with pictures and objects that they find entertaining, than with letters.

 

You can read more about what to expect at a children’s eye test here on our blog. If you have any concerns about your child’s vision or eye health, it’s important to contact your optician immediately. Often, the earlier problems are detected, the more effectively they can be treated, so don’t delay. September is the perfect time to take your child for their annual check-up to ensure that they’re ready to learn and thrive in the new school year.


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