August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. While many parents may not think twice about children’s eyes unless there is a problem, optimal eye health starts before birth.
Smoking while pregnant can increase the risk of prematurity. Besides other health concerns that come with premature delivery, babies born early are at greater risk for permanent vision loss or blindness. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, smoking during pregnancy also increases the risk of bacterial meningitis by five times, which can lead to vision loss.
During the first several months of life, babies’ eyesight is still developing as they are slowly learning to take in the stimuli in the world. By three months of age, babies are able to focus on and follow an object. By five months of age, babies are able to see in three dimensions and have a better grasp of depth perception. By nine months of age, final eye color is typically established.
As children enter toddlerhood, be on the lookout for eye misalignment. If the eyes are not symmetrical in the direction they are looking, consult advice from the pediatrician. External forces that may cause vision impairment at this stage include measles infection and children inadvertently getting into harmful cleaning chemicals.
During this stage, vision impairments become easier to detect as verbal skills improve and children begin formal classroom instruction.
This stage of life also introduces more screen time. When possible, limiting screen time can help avoid eye strain as well as improve sleep. When prolonged screen time is necessary, implement the 20-20-20 Rule: every 20 minutes, look away from the screen at an object 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.
Teens and Young Adults
Eye injuries are the most common cause of blindness in children. While not all accidents can be avoided, there are some instances where preventive measures can protect vision. According to the National Eye Institute, being hit by a baseball is a leading cause of vision loss in children ages 5-14 years. Approximately 90% of sports eye injuries could be prevented with proper eyewear protection. While many parents think standard eyeglasses or sunglasses o er protection in sports, Dr. Kendra DeAngelis, MD, an oculoplastic surgeon, states that “the truth is that non-protective eyewear can shatter upon impact, causing more damage to your eye.”
The American Academy of Ophthalmology educates parents about warning signs such as a rapid loss of interest in activities that require extensive eye use, turning the head to look at something in front of them, and easily losing their place in the text while reading. Johns Hopkins Medicine also includes symptoms such as disinterest in distant objects, holding items close to the face, squinting, rubbing eyes, light sensitivity, and poor hand-eye coordination. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist for evaluation.
Eye Exams by Age
Shortly after birth, a physician will conduct a newborn eye screening that may include a “red reflex” test, where eyes show up red in the light as they do in photos. The pediatrician will conduct a second screening at a well-child appointment within the rst year of life. Between 1-3 years, there may be a “photoscreening” test to check for healthy eye development. This is a specialized camera that can help detect problems. Between 3-5 years of age, once a child is old enough to identify letters, they will also complete a vision test at the pediatrician by reading an eye chart.
The pediatrician will routinely do vision screenings to detect potential problems. If they detect something of concern or your child exhibits any of the symptoms listed, they will refer you to an ophthalmologist for further evaluation. An ophthalmology exam includes eye dilation and can detect vision problems as well as eye disease.
Diet for Optimal Sight
A healthy diet that includes fruits high in vitamins C and E, sh high in omega-3 fatty acids, non-meat proteins such as nuts and eggs, and leafy greens containing vitamin A are all beneficial to eye health and vision.
Eye health is important for development, school success and full interpretation of the world. Limiting screen time, placing chemicals out of reach and wearing protective eyewear for sports can reduce eye strain and injury. Monitoring your child for symptoms will help detect problems early. Keep those eyes healthy and bright!
*If you have any concerns about your child’s eyesight, please contact your pediatrician.
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