It's easy for common sight problems to go undetected in kids. Here's how to spot the issues and when to go for an eye test.
Common sight problems can go undetected without an eye test. Untreated vision problems can result in hurdles to learning, causing frustration and developmental delays, so it’s important to get your child’s eyes checked if you suspect an issue.
Regular optometry reviews can also pick up rare life-threatening conditions such as retinoblastoma or papilloedema.
“When we know what is "normal" for a patient, it is easier to determine that something has changed or progressed,” says paediatric optometrist Brittany Kovacs from OPSM.
Armed with a little knowledge about when to act, you can ensure your children have the best vision possible.
“Most of the time problems can be prevented with a simple treatment, like wearing glasses,” says Kovacs. “Early detection and regular reviews can help your child reach their full learning potential.”
What are the signs to be aware of?
Kovacs advises that there are a number of things to be aware of including one eye turning in or out, frequent blinking, red or watery eyes and eye rubbing.
Noticeable head tilt, covering or closing one eye to focus and squinting are other signs to watch out for in babies or young children.
“As they get older, complaints of double vision or headaches may indicate a problem” says Kovacs. “Difficulty learning to read or holding things close to read or focus can also signal a vision concern.”
At what age should you be concerned?
“The earlier a problem is detected, the less it could affect a child's growth and development,” advises Kovacs.
“If a problem is found but reviewed regularly, we have a better idea of when something starts to change. This helps with diagnosis and treatment and can prevent small issues going undetected and causing large problems.”
Peak body Optometry Australia recommends that children have their eyes tested by an optometrist before starting school.
However, Kovacs says that if you have any concerns or notice any problems prior to this, it’s never too early to book an appointment.
What can parents do to test their child’s sight?
“OPSM [has] Penny the Pirate which is an eye screening book and app,” says Kovacs. “This can be used as a screening tool to detect problems with distance vision, colour vision or depth perception.”
Besides this, just being aware of any worrying signs and visiting the optometrist at least once every two years can help to stay on top of any concerns.
How are toddlers tested?
To test for common sight problems like shortsightedness (blurry distance vision), long-sightedness (blurry near vision), and astigmatism (distorted vision), optometrists use matching games.
“We use colourful targets and lights to make sure both eyes are working, moving together and aligned,” says Kovacs.
“We also have tests disguised as games to measure depth perception and colour vision. Finally, we have handheld instruments to make sure your child's eyes are healthy from front to back.”
Can sight issues develop in children later on?
Good vision is important as a key building block for learning and development and as children get older, their eyes continue to grow and change.
Consequently, this can sometimes lead to common refractive errors which can be fixed with glasses.
“In other cases, this can cause problems which at first, don’t appear to be caused by vision problems,” advises Kovacs.
“Eyestrain, blurred vision, headaches, impatience with reading or when completing homework, poor attention span at school or eye turning in or out when tired may indicate an issue.”
How regularly should children be tested?
“Children should have their eyes tested every two years if there are no signs of issues or concerns, but the review schedule is always based on the individual,” says Kovacs.
“I have some children that I see every one to three months and others that I check in with every six months depending on what we’re watching and how they’re being treated.”
Kovacs advises that it’s always best to speak to your optometrist about how often your child should be reviewed.