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Childhood Eye Health & Safety Month | Overview

August is Childhood Eye Health and Safety Month. Vision is crucial for learning both in and out of the classroom. Reading, writing, social interactions, and participation in sports and hobbies all depend on good vision. Dr. Christina Scelfo, a pediatric ophthalmologist at BCHP, discusses the importance of vision screening and injury prevention, and offers tips to keep your child's eyes safe.

I think my child sees well. When should they see the ophthalmologist?

Dr. Scelfo explains, “Children do not know what clear vision is supposed to look like and will often not realize or verbalize that there is a problem. After all, the vision they have is all they have ever experienced.” This underscores the importance of routine well visits at your pediatrician, where vision screenings are done regularly.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) provide vision screening recommendations for children that start at birth and are performed at your pediatrician’s office. At each visit, your pediatrician will examine your child's eyes externally and check for strabismus, abnormal eye movements, and responsive pupils. To further evaluate your child's vision, pediatricians will incorporate automated vision tests (called auto-refraction) when your child is around 12 months old. After three years of age, most children can participate in more detailed visual acuity testing using symbols first and letters later. If there is any concern about your child’s vision or any abnormalities on screening tests, your child will be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist for a comprehensive exam.

It is important to know that vision impairment runs in families. If one or both parents have a history of wearing glasses, your child has an increased chance of needing glasses too.

What are common eye conditions that affect children? 

  • Myopia – nearsightedness is a condition in which children can see objects near them clearly, but things further away are blurry. Corrected by glasses or contact lenses.
  • Amblyopia – often caused by lazy eye, and results in reduced vision in one eye
  • Strabismus – occurs when the eyes are not aligned properly, resulting in eyes that appear crossed or do not move together smoothly, even if it happens only occasionally.
    • Strabismus can lead to amblyopia and can cause vision loss and decrease in depth perception. However, when recognized at a young age, ideally before age 5, treatment of amblyopia and strabismus allows for the development of equal vision and normal depth perception.

What are symptoms parents can look out for?

  • Lazy eye or unequal eye movements
  • Head tilt or torticollis: holding the head at an angle or to the side 
  • Squinting in one or both eyes
  • Frequent blinking or tearing
  • Recurrent headaches

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, talk to your pediatrician. These can be a sign that your child may require further evaluation by an ophthalmologist.

What are some tips for eye safety?

Protective eyewear should be worn during sports as this is the leading cause of pediatric eye injuries. If your child requires corrected vision, you can speak with your ophthalmologist about options for prescription sports goggles for land and water sports. Contact lenses also provide an alternative to wearing prescription eye protection.

Dr. Scelfo also recommends that children with poor vision in one eye especially wear protective glasses to prevent injury to the stronger eye. These glasses should ideally be made of polycarbonate, which is strong, shatterproof, and will protect the eyes in the case of an accident.

Good vision and eye health are essential for your child’s physical, social, and emotional well-being. Childhood Eye Health and Safety Month is a great reminder to stay up to date with your child’s vision examinations and, if needed, make sure they have the proper eye protection for their extracurricular activities.