August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety month! Take a minute to educate yourself on what you need to know to protect your child’s vision.

Keep Up with Eye Evaluations

Eye evaluations can help identify any problems with your child’s vision. Hillary Onan, MD, an Austin pediatric ophthalmologist, advises parents, “Listen to experts who specialize in finding and treating vision problems in children when making decisions about your child’s vision care.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) works with the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology (AAPOS) to develop recommendations based on scientific evidence.

Key points from the AAP and AAPOS policy statement on visual assessment are:

  • Children should have routine eye evaluations at regularly scheduled well-child visits. (Well-child visits are usually performed by a pediatrician or family doctor.)
  • Eye evaluations should begin at the time of birth and continue throughout childhood and adolescence.
  • If your child fails a vision screening or if the provider finds a problem, your child should visit an eye care specialist who is trained to treat children. Many times, this specialist is a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Seek Out Sound Information

If you google “vision care for children,” you will find much information and many recommendations. As with any online search, be aware that you may find good advice, as well as advice that is not based on sound principles. One example is “vision therapy.” Scientific evidence does not support the claims made by these advocates. Always check with your pediatrician when making decisions on vision care for your child.

Watch for These Signs and Symptoms

Contact your pediatrician for possible referral to a pediatric ophthalmologist if your child has any of the following:

  • Family history of an eye problem that presented in childhood
  • A disease that can cause eye problems, such as diabetes
  • Sudden vision changes
  • Misaligned eyes after 3 months of age
  • One or both of the eyelids droop
  • Rhythmic shaking of your infant’s eyes (which usually starts between 8 to 10 weeks of age)
  • A syndrome that is associated with eye problems, such as Down Syndrome
  • An eye injury

Dr. Onan notes that “many young children are naturally farsighted. As they grow, their vision normalizes without any treatment.”

Protect Your Child’s Eyes

The American Academy of Ophthalmology cautions parents to protect your child from eye damage or even blindness by taking the following precautions:

  • Make sure your child wears sports eye protectors made with polycarbonate lenses. Most sports-related eye injuries in the U.S. happen during baseball.
  • Supervise children when using common items that can cause serious eye injury. Some of these are paper clips, scissors, bungee cords and rubber bands.
  • Keep chemicals and sprays away from children.
  • Don’t let children near fireworks.
  • Only purchase toys designed for the age of your child. Don’t let children play with projectile toys, such as darts and missile-firing toys.
  • Protect children from dog bites. Remove from the household any dog that bites.
  • Use car seats. Put loose items in the trunk so they can’t become dangerous projectiles in a crash.
  • Don’t let children play with pellet or BB guns unsupervised. These are now classified as firearms, not toys. Allow a child to use such items only if the child is mature enough to use the device properly, the child has been trained in its proper use and the child is wearing appropriate eye and ear protection.

Know the Difference

Ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians all deliver eye care. The difference is in training and experience.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor (MD) or osteopath (DO) who is licensed to practice medicine and surgery. These doctors have at least eight years of medical training. They diagnose and treat all eye diseases, perform eye surgery, prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses, and may be involved in scientific research.

An optometrist is a healthcare professional who has a doctor of optometry (OD) degree. These doctors have four years of optometry school training. They are trained to detect some eye abnormalities, perform eye exams and vision tests, prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses and can prescribe medicines for some eye diseases.

An optician is a technician. These professionals have at least a high school diploma, and may have an associate degree or on-the-job training. They can design, verify and fit glasses and contact lenses. They do not test vision or write prescriptions for glasses or contact lenses. They are not permitted to diagnose or treat eye diseases. 

Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer in Austin.

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