A newborn baby cannot tell the difference between two objects until 3 months of age. It is not until 5 months of age that a baby develops color vision. Throughout childhood, the vision continues to develop. Babies will move on to judging distance, developing hand-eye coordination, and recognizing familiar objects.
As preschoolers, children are further developing hand-eye-body coordination, fine motor skills, and the visual perception needed to learn to read and write. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), about 10% of preschoolers have eye problems, however, at this age, most will not express problems about their eyes. Parents should watch for signs that a child may have a vision problem.
By school-age, vision becomes a skill relied on daily both in the classroom and at play. If a child’s vision is not functioning properly, they will have difficulty learning in school. About 25% of school-age children have a vision problem.
The sooner a vision problem is detected, the sooner it can be addressed, and the better the outcome. The AOA recommends that every child receive an eye exam every year.
Some common childhood eye problems that can be detected include:
- Amblyopia (lazy eye)
- Strabismus (crossed or misaligned eyes)
- Ptosis (drooping of the eyelid)
- Color deficiency
This month is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month with the goal of educating parents and caregivers on steps that should be taken to ensure children have healthy vision, and therefore and the best opportunity for a successful school year. In addition to a yearly eye exam, the prevention of other eye problems is important.
Measures to protect eyes include:
- Wear protective eyewear while participating in sports or recreational activities
- Wear sunglasses when outside that have 99 or 100% UVA and UVB protection
- Ensure toys are age-appropriate (watch for sharp or protruding parts)
- When watching a screen such as a phone, tv or computer for a long period of time, follow the 20/20/20 rule – Every 20 minutes look about 20 feet away for 20 seconds
In the unfortunate case something does harm a child’s eyes, here are some basic first aid tips:
- If particles like sand or dust get into the eyes, don’t rub them – wash the eyes out with water
- If an eye gets hit with something hard like a ball or elbow, put a cold compress on the eye for at least 15 minutes to help reduce swelling and pain
- If a chemical splashes in an eye, wash it out with water for at least 15 minutes, then seek emergency medical care
- If an object, like a pencil, gets stuck in an eye, don’t pull it out – put a loose bandage over it if able and seek emergency medical care immediately
Nurturing good eye health is also important. One way to do this is by eating healthy. Many vitamins important to eye health are found in fruits and vegetables, such as vitamin A in carrots and vitamin C in citrus fruits and berries. Lutein, found in leafy greens and eggs, is also important. Salmon and tuna are other sources of nutrients important to eye health.
Help make sure your kids reach their full potential this school year by scheduling an eye exam and keeping their eyes safe and healthy!
American Optometric Association