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Is School Work Causing Computer Vision Syndrome in Your Child?

Eye health tips for students from our Cherry Grove eye doctor

The start of fall means back-to-school for kids of all ages – and our team at Opticare Vision Center wishes everyone a smooth and successful return to the classroom!

When your child enters school after a summer of outdoor fun, many of the summer’s vision hazards are left behind. Yet, that doesn’t mean all eye health risks are eliminated! Nowadays, the majority of learning is computer based – exposing students’ eyes to the pain and dangers of blue light and computer vision syndrome. Fortunately, a variety of helpful devices and smartphone apps are available to block blue light and keep your child’s vision safe and comfortable.

To help you safeguard your child’s vision for the upcoming semesters and the long term of life, our Cherry Grove optometrist explains all about computer vision syndrome and how to prevent it.

Symptoms of computer vision syndrome

It’s smart to familiarize yourself with the signs of computer vision syndrome. If your child complains about any of these common symptoms, you can help prevent any lasting vision damage by booking an eye exam with our Cherry Grove eye doctor near you:

  • Eye irritation and redness
  • Neck, shoulder and back pain
  • Blurry vision
  • Dry eyes, due to reduced blinking
  • Headaches

Basics of blue light

Students spend endless hours in front of digital screens, be it a computer monitor, tablet, or smartphone. There is homework to be done, research to be conducted, texting with friends, and movies and gaming during downtime. All of this screen time exposes your child’s eyes to blue light.

Many research studies have demonstrated that flickering blue light – the shortest, highest-energy wavelength of visible light – can lead to tired eyes, headaches, and blurry vision. Additionally, blue light can disrupt the sleep/wake cycle, causing sleep deprivation and all the physical and mental health problems associated with it. As for your child’s future eye health, blue light may also be linked to the later development of macular degeneration and retinal damage.

How to avoid computer vision syndrome

Our Cherry Grove eye doctor shares the following ways to block blue light and protect against computer vision syndrome:

  • Computer glasses, eyeglasses lenses treated with a blue-light blocking coating, and contact lenses with built-in blue light protection are all effective ways to optimize visual comfort when working in front of a screen. These optics reduce eye strain and prevent hazardous blue-light radiation from entering the eyes.
  • Practice the 20-20-20 rule; pause every 20 minutes to gaze at an object that’s 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This simple behavior gives eyes a chance to rest from the intensity of the computer or smartphone screen, preventing eye fatigue.
  • Prescription glasses can be helpful when using a computer for long periods – even for students who don’t generally need prescription eyewear. A weak prescription can take the stress off of your child’s eyes, decreasing fatigue and increasing their ability to concentrate. Our Cherry Grove optometrist will perform a personalized eye exam to determine the most suitable prescription.
  • Moisturize vision with eye drops. One of the most common symptoms of computer vision syndrome is dry eyes, namely because people forget to blink frequently enough. Equip your child with a bottle of preservative-free artificial tears eye drops (available over the counter) and remind them to blink!
  • Blue light filters can be installed on a computer, smartphone, and all digital screens to minimize exposure to blue. A range of helpful free apps are also available for download.
  • Limit screen time for your child each day, or encourage breaks at least once an hour. Typically, the degree of discomfort from computer vision syndrome is in direct proportion with the amount of time your child spends viewing digital screens.
  • Set the proper screen distance. Younger children (elementary school) should view their computer at a half-arm’s length away from their eyes, just below eye level. Kids in middle school and high school should sit about 20 – 28 inches from the screen, with the top of the screen at eye level.

For additional info, book a consultation and eye exam at Opticare Vision Center

When you and your child meet with our Cherry Grove eye doctor, we’ll ask questions about your child’s school and study habits to provide customized recommendations on the most effective ways to stay safe from computer vision syndrome and blue light. Our optometrist stays up-to-date with the latest optic technologies and methods to prevent painful vision and eye health damage from using a computer, so you can depend on us for contemporary, progressive treatment.

School and Vision: 2 Important Partners

When 20/20 Vision isn’t Enough For Your ChildIt’s February and that means we’re smack in the middle of winter, which is also the middle of the school year. It’s the season when kids fervently hope for snow days and parents hope they don’t happen. As we head towards the second half of the school year, you’ve probably attended a few parent-teacher conferences and discussed your child’s education.

Like peanut butter and jelly, school and vision go hand-in-hand. Both are important partners in ensuring that children excel in their learning, extracurricular activities, and relationships with their peers.

ADD/ADHD and Vision Problems

Did you know that certain vision problems can mask themselves as behavioral or learning difficulties? In fact, education experts often say that 80% of learning is visual.

A 3rd grader may be misdiagnosed with ADD or ADHD if they display behaviors like being fidgety, having difficulty focusing or concentrating, or having a short attention span. These symptoms may not always be purely behavioral; they could be vision-related. A child who experiences blurry vision, suffers from headaches or eyestrain, or itches their eyes excessively may, in fact, have a refractive error such as myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness) or astigmatism, or another condition such as convergence insufficiency.

Undiagnosed myopia, for example can cause these same types of behaviors that are commonly attributed to attention disorders. That’s because if your child has to squint his eyes to see the board clearly, eyestrain and headaches are bound to follow. Struggling with reading or writing is common too. Other vision disorders can cause similar behavior patterns. An additional challenge is that kids don’t always express their symptoms verbally, and often they don’t even realize that other people see differently than do.

This can also impact kids emotionally. When they feel like they’re not keeping up with their peers or their learning is inferior in some way, this may lead the child to act out verbally or even physically.

Distinguishing between colors is an important skill for early childhood development. While color vision deficiency affects both children and adults, kids, in particular, can experience difficulty in school with this condition. Simply reading a chalkboard can be an intense struggle when white or yellow chalk is used. When a teacher uses colored markers on a whiteboard to draw a pie chart, graph, or play a game, this can be a difficult experience for a young student with color blindness. A child, his or her parents, and teachers may even be unaware that the child is color blind.

What School Vision Screenings Miss

Many parents believe that an in-school vision screening is good enough. However, an eye chart test only checks for basic visual acuity, so kids with blurry or double vision, for example, may be able to pass a vision screening while still struggling to read, write, or focus on the board. Children who have problems with their binocular vision, which means using both eyes together to focus on something, can pass the screening when they use just one eye to read the chart.

Studies show that a whopping 43% of children who have vision problems can successfully pass a school vision screening. This means that the vision test may fail to detect the more subtle but significant and treatable vision problems. Early detection and diagnosis is critical to maintaining healthy eyes. That’s why it’s so important to make eye care a part of your child’s healthcare routine.

The Importance of Yearly Eye Exams

The #1 way to do this is to schedule annual eye exams. Your eye doctor can perform a comprehensive pediatric eye exam to check visual acuity, visual clarity, binocular vision, and screen for any eye diseases or vision problems.

Because children develop so rapidly at different ages, it’s essential that eye exams are done at specific stages of their young lives. In fact, The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends regular eye exams at age 6 months, 3 years, before school starts, and every 2 years thereafter.

Simply being aware of the tendency to associate a child’s learning issues with a learning disability or attention disorder instead of an underlying vision problem is critical for parents and educators. Both are partners in a child’s education and they must work together to ensure that each child gets the health care and attention he or she needs.

If you notice changes in your child’s schoolwork, behavior with friends or in sports or other after-school activities, it may be time to schedule an eye exam. You’ll want to be sure that your kids have all the tools they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Is Too Much Screen Time Dangerous For Your Kids?

Screen Time Pros and Cons

Whether it is homework, email, gaming, chatting with friends, searching the web or watching Youtube, kids these days seem to have an endless number of reasons to be glued to a screen. Many parents out there are wondering how bad this can be for their kids and whether they should be limiting screen time.

There are certainly benefits to allowing your kids to use digital devices, whether it is educational, social or providing a needed break. However, studies show that excessive screen time can have behavioral consequences such as irritability, moodiness, inability to concentrate, poor behavior, and other issues as well. Too much screen time is also linked to dry eyes and meibomian gland disorders (likely due to a decreased blink rate when using devices), as well as eye strain and irritation, headaches, back or neck and shoulder pain, and sleep disturbances. Some of these computer vision syndrome symptoms are attributed to blue light that is emitted from the screens of digital devices.

Blue light is a short wavelength, high-energy visible light that is emitted by digital screens, LED lights and the sun. Studies suggest that exposure to some waves of blue light over extended periods of time may be harmful to the light-sensitive cells of the retina at the back of the eye. When these cells are damaged, vision loss can occur. Research indicates that extreme blue light exposure could lead to macular degeneration or other serious eye diseases that can cause vision loss and blindness. Studies show that blue light also interferes with the regulation of the the body’s circadian rhythm which can have a disruptive impact on the body’s sleep cycle. Lack of quality sleep can lead to serious health consequences as well.

Beyond these studies, the long term effects of blue light exposure from digital devices are not yet known since this is really the first generation in which people are using digital devices to such an extent. While it may take years to fully understand the impact of excessive screen time on our eyes and overall health, it is probably worth limiting it due to these preliminary findings and the risks it may pose. This is especially true for young children and the elderly, who are particularly susceptible to blue light exposure.

How to Protect the Eyes From Blue Light

The first step in proper eye protection is abstaining from excessive exposure by limiting the amount of time spent using a computer, smart phone or tablet – especially at night, to avoid interfering with sleep. Many pediatricians even recommend zero screen time for children under two.

The next step would be to reduce the amount of blue light entering the eyes by using blue light blocking glasses or coatings that deflect the light away from the eyes. There are also apps and screen filters that you can add to your devices to reduce the amount of blue light being projected from the screen. Speak to your eye doctor about steps you can take to reduce blue light exposure from digital devices.

As a side note, the sun is an even greater source of blue light so it is essential to protect your child’s eyes with UV and blue light blocking sunglasses any time your child goes outside – even on overcast days.

The eyes of children under 18 are particularly susceptible to damage from environmental exposure as they have transparent crystalline lenses that are more susceptible to both UV and blue light rays. While the effects (such as increased risk of age-related macular degeneration) may not be seen for decades later, it’s worth it to do what you can now to prevent future damage and risk for vision loss.

 

Progressive Myopia: When Your Child’s Vision Keeps Getting Worse

What Is Progressive Myopia?

Nearsightedness or myopia is one of the most prevalent eye disorders worldwide and its incidence is increasing. In fact by 2050, myopia is projected to affect half of the world’s population!

Many children diagnosed with nearsightedness (myopia) experience a consistent worsening of their vision as they grow into adolescence. This condition can be so aggressive that for some, each time they take their child to the eye doctor for a vision checkup, their prescription gets higher.

This is called progressive myopia and can be a serious condition for many children now and in the future. Not only is there a financial burden and inconvenience associated with having to replace eyeglasses on a regular basis, but high myopia is a risk factor for many eye diseases later in life such as retinal detachment, early onset cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration.

What Causes Progressive Myopia?

Myopia is a refractive error that happens when the eye focuses incoming light in front of the retina, rather than directly on it, resulting in blurred distance vision. While an exact cause of progressive myopia is not known, most research indicates that a combination of environmental and genetic factors trigger the condition.

First of all, there is evidence that a family history of nearsightedness is a contributing factor. Additionally, spending a lot of time indoors may play a role in myopia development, as studies show that children who spend more time outside have less incidence of myopia. Lastly, near point stress, which can be caused from looking at a near object for an extended period of time, can prompt the eye to grow longer and result in myopia. Several eye doctors recommend following the 20-20-20 rule when using digital devices (stopping every 20 minutes to look 20 feet away for 20 seconds) to reduce near point stress caused by computer use.

What Can Be Done To Prevent or Treat Myopia?

There are several treatments that have been shown to slow the progression of myopia.

Orthokeratology (ortho-k):

Also known as corneal reshaping, this treatment uses rigid gas permeable contact lenses that are worn while the patient sleeps to reshape the cornea, which is the clear, front part of the eye. During the day, the patient is usually able to see clearly, glasses-free. In addition to allowing glasses-free vision during the day, this treatment has been shown to reduce the progression of myopia in many children.

Distance Center Multifocal Contact Lenses:

This treatment uses distance center (which means the area for seeing at a distance is in the center of the lens) multifocal soft contact lenses to provide clear vision and slow the progression of myopia. The lenses are worn as normal contact lenses during the day.

Atropine Drops:

Atropine drops are a daily-use prescription eye drop that has been shown to reduce myopia progression. It can be used alone or in combination with ortho-k or multifocal contact lenses.

Additional Myopia Treatments:

While these treatments are available in all of North America, some countries offer additional options that are approved for myopia control. Forexample, in Canada, ZeissTM MyoVision glasses that have an innovative lens curvature design are available to help reduce the rate of myopia progression. Additionally some doctors in Canada offer Coopervision MiSight® lenses, which are 1-day contact lenses that are worn during the daytime. These contacts have a multifocal lens design with distance centre and near surround that is specifically designed for children.

Myopia & Your Child

If your child’s vision keeps getting worse, it’s more than an annoyance – it can be a serious risk factor for their eye health and vision in the future. The best strategy for myopia control depends on the child and the severity of the case, and requires consultation with an experienced eye doctor in order to determine the best solution. If your child wears glasses, make his or her vision a priority; schedule an eye exam to ensure stable vision and healthy eyes.

 

Signs That Your Child Has a Vision Problem

Healthy eyes and good vision are essential for your child’s growth and development. In fact, learning is 80% visual, which means a child’s success in school, athletics and many other aspects of life can be impacted by poor vision. Good vision goes beyond how far you can see, and also includes a number of other skills such as visual processing and eye movement abilities.

Often times vision deficiencies are at the root of learning problems and behavioral issues and may unfortunately go unchecked and misdiagnosed. Remember, if your child is having trouble in school, an eye exam and a pair of prescription glasses is a much easier solution than treating a learning disorder or ADHD; yet many people fail to check that first.

It is common for children to think that their vision deficiency is normal and therefore they often won’t report it to parents or teachers. That is why it is even more important to know what to look for. Here are some signs that your child may have a vision problem:

Vision Signs

  • Squinting or blinking often
  • Eye rubbing
  • Tilting the head to the side
  • Covering one eye
  • One eye that turns out or in
  • Reporting double vision
  • Holding books or reading materials very close to the face

 

Behavioral Signs

  • Complaining of headaches or eye fatigue
  • Short attention span
  • Difficulty reading
  • Losing their place frequently when reading
  • Avoiding reading or any activity that requires close work
  • Problems with reading comprehension or recall
  • Behavioral issues that stem from frustration and/or boredom
  • Poor performance and achievement in school or athletics
  • Working twice as hard to achieve minimal performance in school

Another issue is that many parents and teachers think that a school vision screening is sufficient to assess a child’s vision, so if that test comes back okay, they believe there is no vision problem. This however, is far from the case. A school vision test usually only assesses visual acuity for distance vision or how far a child can see. Even a child with 20/20 vision can have significant vision problems that prevent them from seeing, reading and processing visual information.

Every child of school age should have comprehensive eye and vision exams on a regular, yearly basis to assess their eye and vision health, and ensure that any issues are addressed as soon as possible. It’s also important to have an exam prior to entering kindergarten, as undetected lazy eye may be more complicated to treat past seven years of age.

Some of the issues the eye doctor may look for, in addition to good visual acuity, are the ability to focus, eye teaming and tracking, visual perception, hand-eye coordination, depth perception and peripheral vision. They will also assess the health of the eye and look for any underlying conditions that may be impairing vision. Depending on the problem the eye doctor may prescribe eyeglasses, contact lenses or vision therapy to correct the issue.

During the school years a child’s eyes and vision continue to develop and change so it is important to continually check in on your child’s vision. If you have a family history of vision problems, follow-ups are even more important. Progressive conditions like progressive myopia, strabismus (crossed eyes), amblyopia (lazy eye) or astigmatism can be treated and monitored for changes with early treatment so it’s important to seek a doctor’s diagnosis as soon as signs or symptoms are present.

Make sure that your child has the best possible chances for success in school and add a comprehensive eye exam to your back to school to-do list.

Do You Know if Your Child Has Myopia?

Eye Exams Are Necessary to Diagnose, Treat & Control Myopia

Child Girl Brown EyesThere’s a lot of talk nowadays about myopia and “myopia control” as a part of kids’ eye care. Defined simply, myopia refers to nearsightedness – which means that when your child looks at objects in the distance, they appear blurry. At the beginning, kids may not complain about any vision problems, yet parents and teachers may notice them squinting constantly to see the board or anything faraway. This is a warning sign that it’s time for a pediatric eye exam! A comprehensive evaluation of your kid’s vision is the only reliable way to detect or rule out myopia or any vision problem. Additionally, routine eye exams enable early intervention, which goes far towards the eye health and general well-being of your child.

What causes nearsightedness?

Typically, myopia is genetic. (If your family has a history of being nearsighted, you have even more reason to schedule routine eye exams for your kids!) It is characterized by an elongated eyeball, which affects the way light focuses in front of the retina. Myopia often deteriorates throughout childhood and its progression stops by about twenty years old. However, at that time your child may need very strong corrective lenses in order to see clearly.

How is myopia treated?

Eyeglasses have always been the first line of treatment for myopia. However, new research shows that dual-focus contact lenses or orthokeratology may be a better option for vision correction, as they can also decelerate the progression. Many children with myopia find that their vision gets worse with time, and they need a new, more powerful prescription for lenses at every eye exam. Not only does this lead to thicker, unattractive eyeglass lenses, but it is also associated with a higher risk of eye disease in the future, such as cataracts, glaucoma and retinal detachment. Fortunately, that’s where myopia control enters the picture!

What is myopia control?

While there is no way to prevent or cure nearsightedness, various methods show promise for controlling the progression. Orthokeratology, better known as ortho-k, and dual-focus contact lenses are two relatively new ways to put the brakes on myopia.

Dual-focus contacts

The results of a comprehensive three-year long study were shared recently at the British Contact Lens Association Clinical Conference in Liverpool, England. 144 myopic children, aged 8 to 12, participated in this study, and the results showed that wearing dual-focus contact lenses was highly effective in controlling myopia with no side effects reported. These lenses, which have alternating zones for visual correction and treatment, slowed the progression of nearsightedness by 59%!

Ortho-k lenses

Ortho-k, or Corneal Refractive Therapy (CRT) is another option for kids who want to see sharp without wearing eyeglasses or daytime contact lenses. Using advanced digital technology, your child’s eye doctor will map your cornea to custom-design your ortho-k lenses. These specialized lenses are worn only while sleeping, when they gently reshape the cornea to correct refractive error. During the day, your kid will have crystal-clear vision without any eyewear. Because ortho-k lenses mold the cornea and suppress the eyeball from growing further, they also suppress the progression of myopia. Ortho-k has shown tremendous success as a comfortable and safe way to control myopia in kids.

Eye Exams are the First Step towards Treating & Controlling Myopia

Eye exams to check children for myopia are an essential part of responsible family eye care! Don’t wait until your child’s vision condition advances and it is too late to treat it effectively. Maximize your kid’s healthy vision with routine pediatric eye exams – and ask us whether he or she is a good candidate for myopia control!

Are Your Kids Ready for Contacts?

Lots of kids who wear glasses are eager to try out contact lenses. It could be for convenience, a new look, athletic performance, or it could be to just provide another option for vision correction. For children who feel self-conscious in their glasses, contact lenses can be a way to improve self-esteem. Young athletes of all kinds, including younger children who are in gymnastics and tumbling, find that contacts are an excellent option especially as younger kids are becoming involved in travel and club teams outside of school.

Contact lenses are a convenience that comes with a lot of responsibility. Improper use of contact lenses may cause severe discomfort, infections, irritation and, in the worst cases, eye damage or even permanent vision loss.

“With Privilege Comes Responsibility”

Contact lenses are a medical device and should always be treated as such. They should never be obtained without a valid contact lens prescription from an eye doctor, and always purchased from an authorized seller. Among other issues, poor fitting contact lenses bought from illegitimate sources have been known to cause micro-abrasions to the eyes that can increase the risk of eye infection and corneal ulcers in worst case scenarios.

Particularly when it comes to kids and teens, it is best to purchase contact lenses from an eye doctor as they possess the expertise to properly fit contact lenses based on the shape of the eye, the prescription, the lifestyle of the child and other factors that may influence the comfort, health and convenience of contact lens use.

There is some debate over the recommended age for kids to start considering contact lenses. While some experts will say the ideal age is between 11 and 14, there are many responsible children as young as 8 or even younger who have begun to successfully use them. When children are motivated and responsible, and parents are able to ensure follow-up to the daily regimen, earlier contact lens use can be a success. A good measure of whether your child is responsible enough to use contacts is whether they are able to keep their room clean, or maintain basic hygiene like brushing teeth regularly and effectively.

When you think your child might be ready, you should schedule an appointment with your eye doctor for a contact lens exam and fitting. The process will take a few visits to perform the exam, complete a training session on how to insert, remove and care for lenses, then to try out the lenses at home and finally reassess the comfort and fit of the contacts. You may try out a few varieties before you find the best fit.

What Kind of Contact Lens Is Best for My Teen?

The good news is that contact lens use has become easier than ever, with safety, health and convenience being more accessible as technology improves. There are a number of options including the material used to make the lenses (soft or rigid gas permeable), the replacement schedule (if disposable, how often you replace the pair – daily, weekly, biweekly or monthly) and the wear schedule (daily or extended overnight wear).

Single use, daily disposable lenses have become very popular, particularly with younger users, because they are easy to use, requiring no cleaning or storing, and therefore they reduce the risk of infection and misuse. You simply throw out the lenses at night and open a new one in the morning. Your eye doctor will be able to help you and your teen determine the best option.

Tips for Contact Lens Wearers

Following are some basic contact lens safety tips. If your teen is responsible enough to follow these guidelines, he or she may be ready for contact lens use:

  1. Always follow the wearing schedule prescribed by your doctor.
  2. Always wash your hands with soap before applying or removing contact lenses.
  3. Never use any substance other than contact lens rinse or solution to clean contacts (even tap water is a no-no).
  4. Never reuse contact lens solution
  5. Follow the eye doctor’s advice about swimming or showering in your lenses
  6. Always remove your lenses if they are bothering you or causing irritation.
  7. Never sleep in your lenses unless they are extended wear.
  8. Never use any contact lenses that were not acquired with a prescription at an authorized source. Never purchase cosmetic lenses without a prescription!

Contact lens use is an ongoing process. As a child grows, the lens fit may change as well, so it is important to have annual contact lens assessments. Plus, new technology is always being developed to improve comfort and quality of contact lenses.

Contact lenses are a wonderful invention but they must be used with proper care. Before you let your teen take the plunge into contact lens use, make sure you review the dangers and safety guidelines.

How can I tell if my child sees well?

Cute smiling boy with glasses 1280x853

Your child seems to act and play normally for her age. She can pick out objects from across the room, and she doesn’t seem to have any trouble seeing the TV. But could she have a hidden vision problem without knowing it?

Amblyopia is a common eye condition that is often hidden behind the appearance of a child’s seemingly good vision. Amblyopia is also known more familiarly as “lazy eye”. Many people think that a lazy eye is the condition when one eye turns in or out, while the other eye looks straight. That condition is called strabismus, but it almost always leads to amblyopia. A true lazy eye occurs when the brain ignores the signals sent by one eye, causing the child to really use just one eye all the time. This is usually because one eye is weaker or doesn’t focus as well as the other eye. When the brain has a choice between a clear image from one eye and a blurry image from the other eye, the clearer eye always wins. And the blurry eye gets ignored. You could say that it’s not really lazy eye, but lazy brain!

This eye condition is more common in premature babies, and it also runs in families. That is why it is important to provide a complete medical and family history at the time of your appointment.

What are the risk factors for amblyopia?

  • High amounts of astigmatism,
  • High amounts of nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia)
  • Unequal development of the eyes
  • Congenital cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye)
  • Strabismus or “crossed eyes”

Because the brain ignores the blurry eye, a child with two normal appearing eyes may never realize one is lazy. Both eyes appear straight and the child sees well, but only out of one eye. Because of this, children don’t complain and parents don’t realize anything is wrong. In fact these children usually live with amblyopia for years before it is discovered.

If amblyopia is diagnosed early, it can usually be corrected with treatment. But as a child grows older the brain loses some of its plasticity (how easy it is to train the brain to develop new skills), making it harder, or nearly impossible, to fix amblyopia in older kids and adults. That’s why it’s so important for infants and young children to have a comprehensive eye exam.

What Are the Signs of Amblyopia?

If you notice one eye turning in or out, your child should have a comprehensive eye exam to check for strabismus and amblyopia. Preschoolers with amblyopia can show signs of unusual posture when playing, such as head tilting, clumsiness or viewing things abnormally close. Squinting and rubbing of the eyes can also be an indication of a vision problem.

Most of the time, however, there are no obvious signs of amblyopia. The child typically does not complain. Children do not know what normal vision should look like. Sometimes the condition is discovered when the child begins to read. The school nurse may check your child’s vision with a vision screening at school. But it might be possible to pass a vision screening test and still have a lazy eye. Only an eye exam performed by an eye doctor can make a definitive diagnosis of amblyopia or strabismus.

So When Should My Child Have an Eye Exam?

At Opticare Vision Center, we perform InfantSEE examinations, which are no-cost eye exams given to infants between 6 and 12 months of age. The “magic time” for a first eye exam is at 10 months, says Dr. Josiah Young of the Newport office. “At 10 months, enough of the visual system is developed for a smaller range of expected normal results,” says Dr. Young. “Most of the infant exam is just getting the child’s attention and using our special lights to look inside the eyes,” he says. The infant exam will usually require the use of dilating eye drops, which are formulated specifically for children and safe to use.

After that, the best time for an eye exam is after 3 years old or around the time they start preschool. The preschool eye exam involves a lot of games for the child to play. While the doctor plays the games with the child, the doctor is examining the child’s eyes. By the time the exam is over, the kids have had fun and gotten their eyes checked in the process. The preschool eye exam may or may not require eye drops for dilating the pupils.

What is the Treatment for Amblyopia?

In mild to moderate cases of amblyopia, glasses correction alone can often be enough to get the child seeing normally. But in some cases including severe amblyopia, additional treatment with occlusion (patching one eye) is required to force the brain to use the lazy eye. Once we can get the brain using the amblyopic eye, the vision usually improves. Sometimes the treatment will include both glasses and patching therapy. Regular follow-up appointments are necessary to track the child’s progress and ensure the treatment is working properly.

We Learn to See

As mentioned before, lazy eye is more like lazy brain. Vision is a sense that the brain learns to use after we are born. We don’t see perfectly right when we are born. Much of the process of developing good vision takes place in the first 12 months of life and continues to refine through the next 5 or 6 years. So if the brain favors one eye over the other during vision development, the other eye does not develop clear vision. Whether we use patches to occlude the good eye or eye drops to relax the focusing muscles of the good eye, we are trying to train the brain to use the lazy eye. This re-establishes the eye-brain connection with the weaker eye and gradually improves vision in that eye.

Your child’s eye doctor will tailor a therapy plan to best treat the lazy eye. This could involve wearing glasses, patching for a certain number of hours daily, or taking eye drops at certain times. Most of this is worked around the child’s school schedule as to not affect his or her academic performance.

Because the brain learns to see early in life, amblyopia treatment is most effective when done as young as possible. Amblyopia treatment with patches or drops may be minimally effective in improving vision as late as the early teen years (up to age 14). So it is important to identify and treat amblyopia as early as possible.

The key to improving their vision is being compliant with the prescribed therapy. Children must wear their glasses or contact lenses consistently to be successful. Your eye doctor will prescribe a schedule for patching, drops, or vision therapy eye exercises and recommend a follow-up schedule to check your child’s progress.

Amblyopia: Take-home Message – We Learn To See

The comprehensive eye exam is designed to detect all vision conditions, especially lazy eye. There’s a window of time where vision develops in children. Our brain learns to see best during this window. Once that window is closed, around 10 to 12 years old, the vision loss can be permanent. But if we catch it early, we can treat amblyopia and help a child regain the clear vision in both eyes that they deserve. That’s why it is so important to have your child’s eyes checked by an eye doctor at an early age.

10 Tips to Teach Children About Eye Safety

girl in funny glasses

It is important to teach yourchildren about eye health and safety from a young age. This includes awareness about how your overall health habits affect your eyes and vision as well as how to keep your eyes safe from injury and infection. Starting off with good eye habits at a young age will help to create a lifestyle that will promote eye and vision health for a lifetime.

10 Eye Health Tips for All:

  1. Eat right. Eating a balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables (especially green leafies such as kale, spinach and broccoli) as well as omega-3s found in fish, such as salmon, tuna and halibut, help your eyes get the proper nutrients they need to function at their best.
  2. Exercise. An active lifestyle has been shown to reduce the risk of developing a number of eye diseases as well as diabetes – a disease which which can result in blindness.
  3. Don’t Smoke. Smoking has been linked to increased risk of a number of vision threatening eye diseases.
  4. Use Eye Protection. Protect your eyes when engaging in activities such as sports (especially those that are high impact or involve flying objects), using chemicals or power tools or gardening. Speak to your eye doctor about the best protection for your hobbies to prevent serious eye injuries.
  5. Wear Shades. Protect your eyes from the sun by wearing 100% UV blocking sunglasses and a hat with a brim when you go outside. Never look directly at the sun.
  6. Be Aware: If you notice any changes in your vision, always get it checked out. Tell a parent or teacher if your eyes hurt or if your vision is blurry, jumping, double or if you see spots or anything out of the ordinary. Parents, keep an eye on your child. Children don’t always complain about problems seeing because they don’t know when their vision is not normal vision. Signs of excessive linking, rubbing, unusual head tilt, or excessively close viewing distance are worth a visit to the eye doctor.
  7. Don’t Rub! If you feel something in your eye, don’t rub it – it could make it worse or scratch your eyeball. Ask an adult to help you wash the object out of your eye.
  8. Give Your Eyes a Break. With the digital age, a new concern is kids’ posture when looking at screens such as tablets or mobile phones. Prevent your child from holding these digital devices too close to their eyes. The Harmon distance is a comfortable viewing distance and posture – it is the distance from your chin to your elbow. There is concern that poor postural habits may warp a child’s growing body. Also, when looking at a tv, mobile or computer screen for long periods of time, follow the 20-20-20 rule; take a break every 20 minutes, for 20 seconds, by looking at something 20 feet away.
  9. Create Eye Safe Habits. Always carry pointed objects such as scissors, knives or pencils with the sharp end pointing down. Never shoot objects (including toys) or spray things at others, especially in the direction of the head. Be careful when using sprays that they are pointed away from the eyes.
  10. Keep Them Clean. Always wash your hands before you touch your eyes and follow your eye doctors instructions carefully for proper contact lens hygiene. If you wear makeup, make sure to throw away any old makeup and don’t share with others.

By teaching your children basic eye care and safety habits you are instilling in them the importance of taking care of their precious eye sight. As a parent, always encourage and remind your children to follow these tips and set a good example by doing them yourself.

Of course don’t forget the most important tip of all – get each member of your family’s eyes checked regularly by a qualified eye doctor! Remember, school eye screenings and screenings at a pediatrician’s office are NOT eye exams. They are only checking visual acuity but could miss health problems, focusing issues and binocularity issues that are causing health and vision problems.

When 20/20 Vision isn’t Enough For Your Child

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Since studies show that learning is 80% visual, children with untreated vision problems can really suffer when it comes to school. Most people think that good “vision” means 20/20 acuity but in reality, vision is much more complex. Your brain is actually what completes the processing of the visual world around you and visual processing disorders can be present even when there is no evidence of a so-called “vision problem”.

The American Optometric Association reports that 2 out of 5 children have a vision condition that affects learning and estimates that 10 million American children have undiagnosed and untreated vision problems. In Canada, it’s reported that one in 4 school age children have undiagnosed vision problems, many with no obvious symptoms.

A major reason for this is that when parents and teachers see issues in school, they often run to learning or behavioral issues first. In reality, difficulty in reading, understanding, focusing, paying attention and even disruptive behavior can all be symptoms of an underlying vision disorder.

There are a number of skills that we need in order to successfully see and process the outside world. These include, eye teaming (being able to use the eyes together as a team), focusing, tracking, recognition and comprehension. When these skills are delayed or insufficient, learning, reading, understanding and motor skills can all be affected. Most of these visual processing issues cannot be treated by corrective glasses or contact lenses alone. Sometimes a regime of vision therapy exercises may be prescribed to teach the brain how to properly process the information that is coming in through the eyes.

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy often involves a combination of glasses, to optimize visual acuity if needed, and therapeutic exercises designed to train eye coordination and comfortable focusing ability. Typically, there is a comprehensive in-office assessment, then half-hour in-office sessions once every 1-3 weeks. The patient is given home eye exercises to be done 15-20 minutes per day, often with help from the parent.

Vision therapy is a process that can take up to several months before improvement or goals are met. In addition, going through vision therapy does not ensure that your child will get better grades, we are simply trying to give them all the proper learning tools so they can achieve to their fullest potential.

Identifying Vision Disorders

One example of a visual processing disorder is Convergence Insufficiency (CI), a common eye coordination disorder in which the eyes have problems viewing near tasks due to convergence problems. This is when the eyes have difficulty working together and focusing as a team, resulting in eyestrain, headaches and double vision. Children with CI often report that words appear to be “moving across the page”, making reading and comprehensive impossibly difficult.

As with many vision problems, children often don’t realize that their experience is abnormal so they often don’t report the difficulties they are having. Here are some indications that your child might have a vision problem:

  • Headaches
  • Avoiding close tasks such as reading or playing certain games
  • Frequent Blinking and Eye Rubbing
  • Difficulty reading – losing place frequently
  • Covering one eye when trying to focus
  • Double vision
  • Poor memory or reading comprehension
  • Short attention span
  • Clumsiness or poor hand-eye coordination

If your child is having difficulty in school, particularly with tasks involving reading, it is worth getting an eye and vision exam. The sooner a visual processing issue is diagnosed and treated, the greater chance your child with have to thrive and enjoy the school years.

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