Spotting vision problems in children
Eye disorders are among the most common long-term health issues experienced by Australian children. But how can you tell that something might be wrong?
Without clear vision, children can develop learning difficulties or social and behavioural problems, which may cause them to fall behind in school or appear anxious or distracted in busy environments – just imagine being a child in a busy shopping centre with crowds of people and everything looking blurry.
Some statistics show that approximately one in every five primary school-aged children in Australia have undetected vision problems. It can be hard for a child to even realise there is an issue, particularly if that's all they've ever known! So if they develop or already have eyesight issues, they're more likely to try to adapt to seeing in their own way.
Signs your child may be experiencing vision problems
It's worth organising a comprehensive eye check if your child:
- complains of headaches or sore, tired eyes, or blurry or double vision
- blinks frequently and has red or watery eyes
- has difficulty concentrating on, or understanding, reading material, lags behind in reading progress at school, skips/confuses words or loses their place easily
- has difficulty writing
- holds reading material or toys too close to their eyes
- has one eye that turns in or out, while the other points straight ahead
- squints at the TV, or finds it hard to recognise people or objects in the distance
- tilts or turns their head when looking at something, or covers or closes one eye
- rubs their eyes, even when they’re not tired
- is overly sensitive or appears confused with sound/noise direction (e.g. may swing head trying to ascertain who is speaking or where a noise is coming from)
- pulls back or hesitates unusually when in crowds or when things are moving around them
- is overly clumsy (e.g. walking into things or stumbling regularly)
Tips for maintaining your child's eye health
Even if your child isn't displaying any of these symptoms or you have had your child’s eyes tested already, there are steps you can take to help avoid future vision problems and to ensure your child maintains good eye health.
- Ensure your child's environment has plenty of even light.
- Instigate rest periods when they’re using digital devices or TV. Screen time should be limited to two hours per session, with breaks taken every hour for five to 10 minutes. Bupa Optical’s Optometric Services Manager, Karen Makin, says that “while looking at a screen, or anything at a near distance such as schoolbooks or when reading and writing, the focusing muscles in the eyes are working hard. By taking a break every hour, and going outside or looking out a window to a distant view, these muscles relax, and a child is less likely to experience symptoms of eye strain.” Smartphones should be held at a working distance of least 35 to 40cm, as should reading material and homework. "When using a computer, ensure the top of the screen is slightly below eye level – this will keep the eyes in their most comfortable position of gaze.”
- Encourage your children to take regular breaks from their homework and to head outside to play – some sunlight is vital to the ongoing health of eyes as it is with the body. “Encourage your kids to go outside and play (don’t forget the sunscreen!). They should also wear a hat and sunglasses to protect their eyes on strong UV exposure days."
- Promote healthy eating. A diet rich in fruit and vegetables – particularly leafy greens such as spinach, and yellow vegetables such as carrot and pumpkin, can help in maintaining eye and general health.
- Communicate with your child's teacher or childcare worker about any actual or suspected vision issues. "If your child does have an eye problem, or you suspect one, often they are the first to suspect or notice a difference to other pupils and identify a potential vision problem."
The RANZCO Eye foundation recommends that children should have a full eye examination with an eye health professional or optometrist at birth, during infancy and regular follow up examinations through school, or at any time if you're concerned that there might be a problem with your child’s vision.
Once an optometrist has examined your child’s eyes, they'll recommend how often they will need to see your child.