Vision problems can occur at any age, and if identified early there is a very good chance they can be corrected. The goal is to find the problem while the eye is still developing.
A newborn is able to see, but they have to learn how to use their eyes. They have to learn how to focus, track objects, and to use both eyes together. Babies learn eye-hand co-ordination and how close or far things are.
Most parents assume that if a baby or child has an eye problem, they will notice. But sometimes, one or both eyes are not working well for reasons that are not obvious. Optometrists have special tests for babies and infants to diagnose eye conditions, so they can be examined as early as six months. By age one, a baby has “adult-like” eyesight. They are able to judge distance, can grasp and throw things.
Children’s vision continues to develop until about age eight. After that, eyesight is fully developed and cannot be easily corrected. Some vision problems that children may have are crossed eyes (strabismus) the eye muscles point one or both eyes in the wrong direction, lazy eye (amblyopia) where the vision in one eye is weaker than the other, myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness). Some of these vision problems should be treated early to prevent permanent vision loss.
How can you tell if your baby or child might be having vision problems? There are signs and symptoms to watch for; if your baby has a head tilt, they may have an eye or a neck muscle problem. If you notice your child has a white pupil, or if one pupil shows white in a photograph, consult your doctor immediately. Other symptoms could be squinting, red, itchy or rubbing their eyes a lot; sensitivity to light; drooping upper eyelid is another sign, as is covering or closing one eye to see; holding objects too close; avoiding books and television; bumping into things.
Vision problems often run in families. If there is a family history or your child shows any of the signs or symptoms make sure your child gets examined by your family doctor or eye doctor early.
Healthy eyes are important for learning. Because of the importance of early identification, Vancouver Coastal Health provides vision screening for all children 3-years of age and all children in kindergarten. The screening is free and your child does not have to read to be screened. This screening does not replace your regular eye examination by your eye doctor. Some families are eligible for assistance to buy eyeglasses through the BC Healthy Kids Program (1-866-866-0800).
The three-year old screening will take place between now and June at licensed childcare and preschool facilities and at community locations like StrongStart, some Early Years and Kindergarten health fairs. To have your three-year old screened outside of these locations or for more information, contact Shelly McAuley at 604-886-5615.
Good eyesight is a valuable tool for learning and if problems can be discovered early on, that good vision can be made to happen. Early screening means giving your child the best chance for good sight for the rest of their lives.
Editor’s note: Shelly McAuley is the sensory screening technician with Vancouver Coastal Health