Caring for your kids' eyes

A Q&A with Optometrist Tim Thurn

When should I get my child's eyes tested?

The common consensus is that babies and toddlers should have their eyes tested at six and 18 months, and again before starting school.

School children should be tested every three years if they don't wear glasses and every two if they do.

Why is this? What is happening in a child's development at this time that makes regular eye exams so important?

It's important to remember that a child or baby doesn't know if their view of the world is normal or not.

In the first few years, the eyes are establishing their connections to the brain. If an eye's vision is very blurry or if the eye is turned, (strabismus or squint), the eye may 'switch off', becoming 'lazy', (amblyopic). The right steps in the first two to three years of life can help reduce the risk.

If a child can't see the board properly, as with myopia (short sightedness) or their vision is causing fatigue or discomfort, as with hyperopia (long sightedness), then this may interfere with their school work and other activities.

A percentage of children will become short sighted in their first six years and while the symptoms are sometimes obvious, some children may show no sign of a problem, making check-ups important.

What are the warning signs I can look for to know if my child has an eye problem?

Signs can be:

  • headaches;
  • squinting up their eyes when looking at things;
  • constantly rubbing their eyes;
  • unusual head postures;
  • always wanting to be close to things such as TV or getting up in class to go closer to the board.

A visit to the optometrist is warranted if you observe these signs over a period of time.

If my child needs glasses, is there anything I need to consider?

In the US children's glasses must be made from unbreakable polycarbonate. While it's not mandatory in Australia, it is a good idea, and brands such as Airwear® are widely available. With Transitions, (lenses that darken and lighten with the light conditions) your child also gets 100% UV protection.

What about sunglasses? . At what age do I need to get them to start wearing sun glasses?

Ultra violet light can damage our eyes as well as our skin. UV damage to your eyes is cumulative and long term, so early protection is essential. Your optometrist can advise on approved children's sunglasses, especially for times like at the beach, at the snow or for prolonged play outdoors.