“Children are our greatest treasure, they are our future.” – Nelson Mandela
As parents or elders, it is our duty to take care of their health and enhance their growth with maximum effort. Recognizing subtle signs of poor vision could help us provide them with necessary aid. Teaching them about eye hygiene, reading, and writing from a very young age will help them grow with a healthy vision.
It is estimated that 8% of paediatric population in India (0-15 years) suffer from childhood blindness, of this 50% is preventable or treatable.
Childhood blindness is far more gruesome than adulthood blindness is, as it hinders a child’s physical, intellectual and behavioural development which ultimately shapes the future of a child. Hence, early diagnosis is essentially prudent.
The most common eye diseases that can affect a child’s vision are Refractive Errors, Amblyopia, and Strabismus. Other rare causes are Congenital Cataracts, Congenital Glaucoma, and Eyelid abnormalities such as Ptosis, developmental abnormalities such as Microphthalmia, Retinopathy of Prematurity and various Retinal Disorders.
Below are the most common causes and the subtle signs that might help detect the possibilities of an Eye disease.
Conjunctivitis (Infective / Allergic)
Ophthalmia Neonatorum, commonly referred to as pink eye, can affect newborn babies, usually detected by a Paediatrician for children of all age groups. The eyes turn red or pink and teary, accompanied with discharge. In allergic cases, it is accompanied with itching or rubbing of the eyes. Hygiene plays an important role here for parents as well as the children.
Refractive errors are the most common causes for treatable visual impairment in the world. A study done in Hyderabad, concludes that 30-35% of children suffer from Myopia (short sightedness), Hypermetropia (farsightedness) or Astigmatism. The signs that indicate your child might have defective vision are, sitting too close to the Television, too near to the classroom board, squeezing of the eyes, usually accompanied with tearing and headaches. Teachers play a vital role here in informing the parents to take the child to an Ophthalmologist if they notice the child is having difficulty in viewing the board or writing. The use of spectacles will help your child regain clear vision and prevent further complications such as Strabismus and Amblyopia.
Also known as Squint, misalignment or deviation of the eyes, hampers the visual development and binocular vision. Its aetiology is multifactorial which ultimately affects the muscles of the eyes and lead to misalignment. It could be present at birth or appear later around 2-5 years of age. Consulting an Ophthalmologist when squint is noticed earliest is crucial for a child’s binocular visual development. Treatment could be glasses, exercises, and use of prisms or surgery.
Frequently called Lazy Eye is due to the reduced vision in one or both eyes. The causes could be a misalignment of the eyes (Strabismus), defective vision (Refractive Errors) or impaired visual stimulation (usually caused due to Congenital Cataracts, Corneal Opacities, Ptosis), which lead to blurred images. It occurs during the crucial period of vision stimulation, which is from 0-8 years of age. Early detection is essentially imperative as treatment at the earliest age can lead to visual gain but once the crucial period is lost (post 10-12 years) treatment becomes gruelling.
Treatment here is patching of the good or dominant eye (eye with the better vision) so that the child is forced to use the other eye. It is extremely important that the child is using his glasses while patching (so as to have best corrected vision). During patching the child is encouraged to paint, do near activities, watch television or play video games.
Smart Phones / Tabs and their affect on children
Children born in today’s era of technology are so dependent on these devices that they refuse to eat without their favourite rhyme or cartoon being played. A study shows that children who use smartphones regularly have a high risk of eye damage due to the blue light emitting from the digital devices and risk of developing Myopia due to spending too much time focusing on close-up objects.
As parents, what can you do?
- Get your children to go outdoors, exercise and play some sport. A recent study assessed and highlighted the efficacy of increasing time spent outdoors in preventing Myopia.
- Healthy diet, food items such as Carrots, a good source of Vitamin A, helps in the development and functioning of eyes. Nuts, a source of Vitamin E is known for protecting eyes. Oranges and lemons are a powerhouse of Vitamin C. Spinach and other leafy greens, are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin. Beans contain zinc, a mineral which is vital to eye health.
- Practice the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes while you are doing near activities such as reading/laptop/ mobile, take a 20 second break and look 20 feet away.