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.
1 in 5 children have an undetected vision problem1. 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.
OPSM Optometrist, Kirby Phillips said, “Good sight is essential for learning, and helps set your child up for the rest of their life.”
Armed with a little knowledge about when to act, you can ensure your children have the best vision possible.
“Most of the time vision problems can be managed with a simple treatment, like wearing glasses,” says Phillips. “Early intervention and regular reviews can help your child reach their full learning potential.”
What are the signs to be aware of?
Phillips advises that there are a number of things to be aware of including poor attention at school, one eye turning in or out, frequent blinking, 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 Phillips. “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 vision problem is detected, the less it’s likely to affect a child's growth and development,” advises Phillips.
“If a vision or eye health abnormality is found but reviewed regularly, monitoring of the problem helps with diagnosis and treatment. This 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, Phillips says that if you have any concerns or notice problems prior to this, it’s never too early to book an appointment.
What can parents do?
“Encourage your child to spend plenty of sun-safe time outdoors,” Phillips recommends. “Time outdoors in natural light is extremely important for the development of children’s eyes.”
Try to limit near activities such as reading and tablet use. Research has shown that higher levels of near work are associated with an increased risk of short-sightedness.
Besides this, 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 Phillips.
“We also have tests and scans disguised as games to check the health of the eyes and measure depth perception and colour vision.”
Can sight issues develop in children later on?
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 difficulties which at first, don’t appear to be caused by vision problems,” advises Phillips.
“Eyestrain, blurred vision, headaches, impatience with reading or when completing homework, poor attention span at school or an eye turning in or out when tired may indicate an issue.”
How regularly should children be tested?
“Children should have their eyes tested at least every two years if there are no signs of issues or concerns, but the review schedule is always based on the individual,” says Phillips.
“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.”
Phillips advises that it’s always best to speak to your optometrist about how often your child should be reviewed.