Gerber Life Family Times --- News and tips for familes of all ages and stages of life

I Can See Clearly Now  
Protect your child's vision and eye health.


HealthThe gift of sight is something we all tend to take for granted. We wake up in the morning, blink once or twice, and a blurry world pops into sharp, clear focus. Our sight allows us to move easily through our daily world and plays a vital role in our ability to process and learn from the moment we enter the world. The American Optometric Association (AOA) states that 80 percent of all learning is performed through vision. For some, that clear world seen by others is fuzzy or blurry and the ability to observe and learn easily is severely impacted. The wish of any parent is for their child to avoid as many roadblocks as possible along life's road so each child is enabled and empowered to achieve his or her ultimate potential. With good vision playing such an important role in the learning and childhood development process, periodic infant and childhood visits to an eye-care professional are a must to make sure your child is seeing properly.

For children with vision problems, there are few things initially more traumatic than the prospect of getting glasses. But once the world pops into clear focus, any fears or doubts disappear. Vision problems are far from rare among children. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) states that more than 12 million children suffer from some sort of visual impairment. Those problems affect one in twenty pre-school children and one in four children of school age. Promoting good eye health for your child is a process that begins before birth and continues throughout life. The AOA provides the following life markers and actions to assure good vision and eye health for your child:

  • Pre-natal—Proper pre-natal care and nutrition help a baby's eyes develop properly before birth.
  • At birth—A baby's eyes should be examined for any signs of congenital eye problems. At this stage, early diagnosis and treatment for such conditions are vital to a child's development.
  • At six months of age—A baby should receive his or her first thorough eye examination by an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist will test for excessive or unequal amounts of nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and eye movement ability as well as general eye health. Unless you, as a parent, notice a need or the ophthalmologist recommends it, a child's next examination should be planned at the age of three.
  • Age three—Once again an ophthalmologist should perform a thorough optometric eye examination to verify your child's vision is developing normally and that there is no evidence of eye disease. If correction is required, the ophthalmologist may prescribe corrective lenses and/or vision therapy to help correct a vision development problem. The AAO notes that beginning at age three, an eye examination should look for conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye), color deficiency (color blindness), ptosis (drooping of the upper eyelid), refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism), and strabismus (crossed eyes).

For your child's first eye examination, the AOA suggests the following tips for a positive experience:

  • Make the appointment early in the day and allow approximately one hour in your schedule.
  • Talk about the eye examination well in advance and encourage your child to ask questions.
  • Explain the purpose of the examination and the eye exam procedure in terms your child will understand (i.e., referring to the eye chart as a puzzle and comparing the instruments to tiny flashlights).

Unless advised differently by the ophthalmologist, your child's next examination should be at age five where the ophthalmologist will compare the three and five year exams for changes and evaluate how your child's vision is developing as he or she approaches school age. Although these benchmarks offer good guidelines to calendar examinations, the American Academy of Ophthalmology notes that there are factors that may put your child an increased risk of eye disease and, if present, a more frequent examination schedule may be warranted. Those factors include:

  • African-American heritage (African-Americans are at an increased risk for developing glaucoma)
  • Developmental delay
  • Personal or family history of eye disease
  • Premature birth
  • Previous serious eye injury
  • Some diseases that affect the whole body such as diabetes
  • Use of certain medications

By seeing and interacting with your child everyday, you are in a unique position to notice warning signs that your child's vision is not optimal. Be sure to inform your ophthalmologist if your child frequently:

  • Avoids close work
  • Consistently performs below potential
  • Experiences headaches
  • Holds reading material closer than normal
  • Loses his or her place while reading
  • Makes frequent reversals when reading or writing
  • Omits or confuses small words when reading
  • Rubs his or her eyes
  • Tilts or turns head to use one eye
  • Uses finger to maintain place when reading

HealthOnce in school, your child will receive vision screenings. However, the AOA advises that such a screening should not serve as a substitute for a thorough eye examination. School age signals the time to start a regular visit to the ophthalmologist at least every two years or more frequently if specific problems or risk factors exist.

Eye protection is also another area where parents can make choices that will help preserve the health and functionality of a child's eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that sports are the leading cause of eye injury in children. The AAO recommends that children wear appropriate protective eyewear with polycarbonate lenses or shields when participating in baseball, basketball, football, racquet sports, soccer, wrestling, any form of hockey (ice, roller, street, and field), and lacrosse. Also, sharp objects such as pens, pencils, darts, knives, etc. are also responsible for significant eye injuries and should be handled with care. If an eye injury does occur, have a medical doctor or ophthalmologist examine the injury as soon as possible.

A child's eyes are his or her window on the world. Regular examinations and protective measures will help protect that cherished gift of sight and ensure that your child experiences a lifetime of good eye health.

As with any aspect of your family's health, consult with your family physician and eye-care specialist regarding your family's specific needs and concerns.

American Optometric Association—
American Academy of Ophthalmology—

Articles are provided for the general interest of our readers. Gerber Life Insurance is not responsible for any content and recommends that you consult the appropriate professional with any questions or concerns you may have concerning any financial or health related issues.

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