The importance of early eye tests in children

Aug 15, 2011 in Leightons News

The importance of early eye tests in children

When I was 12 years old my school wrote to all parents asking them to book an eye examination for their child. I had never had an eye test before because neither my parents nor I had thought there was any need. My parents were staggered when I could only read the top letter on the chart.

I had become gradually myopic (shortsighted) and anything much beyond arms length was a blur. I had managed by screwing up my eyes, sitting close to the television and copying notes from a classmate instead of the board. I had no idea that other people could see so well. When I received my glasses two weeks later I was amazed I could see that trees had separate leaves and houses had separate bricks.

In one respect I was fortunate. Glasses completely corrected the myopia and the lack of glasses over the previous few years had not caused any permanent damage to my eyesight. I could read the bottom line on the chart with both eyes and had developed normal binocular 3D vision. Other children are not so lucky.

Children who are hyperopic (longsighted) can often see normally in the distance by using the focussing mechanism in the eye that should only be needed for close work. If the amount of hyperopia is small there is usually not a problem and glasses are not needed. However, large degrees of hyperopia can make close work blurred and feel like more of an effort for the child. These children are very likely to shun reading and have problems with concentration. And there can be other problems.

Eyes that are very hyperopic are much more prone to having squints. The excessive focussing effort can cause one of the eyes to turn inwards towards the nose. This can happen when the child is still a baby. Squints are not always obvious. Small squints may not show at all while straight eyes can sometimes appear to squint in babies and young children.

Squints go on to cause other problems.

The squinting eye gets ‘shut down’ by the brain in order to prevent double vision and the vision does not develop normally. It becomes an amblyopic eye – sometimes called a lazy eye. Even with glasses, the vision will be poor. Binocular, 3D vision is absent or greatly reduced – these children can never seem to catch a ball. Treatment is usually glasses and patching the ‘good’ eye- Occasionally squint surgery is required.

The key to a successful outcome is early diagnosis. If the problem is discovered and treated quickly there is a good chance that the vision in the squinting eye can be preserved and 3D vision will not be lost. However, all too often optometrists see people who have a squint that has never been diagnosed and treated. The vision is often very poor in the squintng eye and they have no 3D vision. Treatment at this stage is much less effective.

Most parents will be told that their child has good eyesight after an eye examination at Leightons. However, if your child has a problem, you may have saved them from having difficulties at school and possibly poor vision for the rest of their lives.

Leightons offer free eye examinations under the NHS for children up to 16 years (or 19 years if in full-time education) and offer an attractive range of glasses at no charge with the NHS voucher.

There really is no excuse for not booking your child in for an eye exam at Leightons Opticians - click here to book online