Eyecare for kids
Children's optician Steph Cawte explains what parents
need to know about their children's vision and eye
That first look into your newborn baby's eyes is the
most precious experience. As you gaze into those gorgeous eyes,
have you ever wondered what they can see? It used to be believed
that newborn babies have very little vision and that everything was
blurry and only black-and-white. We now know that newborn babies
can see quite clearly at a close range and probably have colour
There are two parts to vision - the eye
itself and the visual system (how the images are sent to and
understood by the brain). The visual system of a newborn is not
fully developed, and for the first few months, a baby can only
focus up to about 25cm away.
Babies have to learn how to use their eyes
in conjunction with their visual system in order to see. They learn
to focus, move their eyes, and use both eyes together in order to
develop their vision. Even though this learning process is still
developing for them, research shows they can recognise their
mother's face as early as 15 hours after birth.
It will take up to six months for a baby
to develop depth of field and full colour vision. During the first
six months, babies will start to track objects and begin to reach
out for them. This starts to develop hand-eye coordination.
Crawling also helps to further develop hand-eye coordination. By
age two, hand-eye coordination and depth perception should be well
developed. Children's visual development is aided by
age-appropriate activities such as hanging a mobile above the cot,
rolling ball, or using building blocks.
Eye problems are rare in children, but
it's important to address any concerns early. Common eye problems
in children include:
- Amblyopia (lazy eye): Reduced vision from lack of use in an
otherwise normal eye
- Myopia (nearsightedness): Close vision is clear, but
distance is blurry
- Hyperopia (farsightedness): Distance vision is clear, but
near vision blurry
- Blocked tear ducts
- Strabismus (or squint): The misalignment of the
- Ptosis: The muscle that raises the upper eyelid has not
developed properly, causing it to droop.
Parents are usually the first to
notice any problems with their child's eyes. Signs to look for
include cross eyes, rubbing of the eyes, sitting close to the TV or
holding books close, shutting of one eye, tilting of the head, or
squinting to see an object. Older children may complain of
headaches, double vision, or not seeing
If you suspect any problems with your
child's vision, you should make an appointment for an eye
examination. Children need good vision to understand and interact
with the world around them. 80% of learning is visual, so it is
important that any eye problems are dealt with early.
It is never too young to have your child's
eyes examined. The best place for a thorough eye examination for a
preschool-aged child is with a specialist ophthalmologist (eye
doctor). Once a child is at school, can converse well and knows
their alphabet, then they will generally see an optometrist.
Eye patches are used for the treatment of
amplyopia, strabismus, and double vision in children. They can be
either worn on the eye or on glasses.
There is a fantastic range of frames
available now for children who need glasses, from one-piece soft
plastic frames for babies, to super-flexible titanium frames for
the athletic child, as well as gorgeous plastic fashion frames for
the kids who want something funky - just like Mum and Dad!
When looking for glasses for children, it
is important that the frames fit now - don't buy a pair that are
too big for the child to "grow into", as they will not be
comfortable and will likely fall off and break before they get a
chance to fit properly. Children will usually need two pairs of
glasses, as one pair will often be getting fixed, since they do
have a bit of a rough life compared to adult glasses! It is
important to get your children's glasses fitted by a professional -
a Dispensing Optician or Optometrist - as they are qualified in
frame-fitting and giving lens advice.
There is a huge range of frames available
for all age groups, as well as sports glasses, prescription
swimming goggles, and prescription sunglasses. Lenses should be
impact-resistant for safety. Even if your child doesn't wear
prescription glasses, you may want to consider visiting a
professional to fit regular sunglasses, too.
Sunglasses are an important but often
overlooked part of eye care for children. Children's eyes are
particularly sensitive to UV light and childhood exposure can lead
to problems later in life, such as cataracts and age-related
macular degeneration. It is therefore important for children to
wear quality, well-fitting sunglasses in bright sunlight.
When a baby is lying in a pram, remember
that they are facing directly into the sun so should have a sun
shade on or baby sunglasses. Sunglasses specifically designed for
babies will have a soft band that goes around the head to keep the
glasses on and for comfort. Babybanz and Frubi are two brands
specifically made for babies. For children aged between two and
seven, Bolle have a great range of children's sunglasses - they
exceed the industry standard with 100% UVA and UVB protection, and
are made from high-quality nylon frames designed for little faces.
And for all ages, Julbo have a great range of quality frames and
lenses. They have close-fitting wrap-around frames, which are
flexible and lightweight. If you are concerned about your child's
eyesight, it's better to be safe than sorry, so don't hesitate to
seek professional help.
Steph Cawte is an independent Dispensing Optician who is New
Zealand's only dedicated children's eyewear specialist. Poppet
Optics stocks New Zealand's biggest range of children's frames. For
an appointment, phone (09) 523 4403.
As seen in OHbaby!
magazine Issue 9: 2010
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