Eye Care for Kids
Parents naturally care for their children right from the day they are born; in fact, the care for a child begins with the onset of pregnancy. Mothers and fathers take immense care and precaution in order to ensure a healthy happy child is welcomed into the world. Numerous pregnancy manuals along with gynaecological observations, a well-balanced diet for the mother, frequent visits to the gynaecologist are among the many things to be parents focus on. But what about eye care for children?
Eyes are delicate and sensitive organs that need care right from the time a child is conceived and should continue through childhood to teenage; this is especially true in case there is a family history of eye trouble or if either or both parents suffer from eye problems. A paediatrician can screen a child’s eyes and determine the state of their health but if problems are found; a paediatric ophthalmologist must be consulted. All children should be screened at an eye clinic at least once before beginning school.
Beginning school can be hard for a lot of children and there are many obstacles a child faces in a new and at times hostile environment. Children avoid going to school because of a number of “reasons” but these shouldn’t be ignored and dismissed by parents as mere “childish” behaviour. Often children are hesitant because they may be having eye trouble which makes matters worse at school. For instance, if a child continually refuses to go to school, this could be due to constant headaches, poor academic performance, reading and writing trouble, attention deficiency, trouble seeing what’s written on the class board, blurred vision or other eye issues the child may be facing. In case a child exhibits such behaviour, he/she must be taken for a proper eye examination. There are some options available such as visiting an ophthalmologist who can thoroughly assess and evaluate the child’s eyes, prescribe corrective lenses, even perform corrective surgery if need be. The common eye diseases found among children include:
- “Lazy Eye” or Amblyopia when there is abnormal visual development in one eye compared to the other. This usually affects children between the time of birth up to the age of seven. Though treatable, if left unchecked; lazy eye can lead to permanent deficiency in vision. Amblyopia can be treated and reversed only in early childhood, and hence needs to be diagnosed and managed age-appropriately.
- Strabismus or “Cross Eyed” is a misaligned set of eyes that can cause one or both to wander. Both eyes may not be able to focus on the same object at any given time. This needs thorough evaluation by a specialist, who may prescribe eye glasses, exercises or surgery as needed.
- Refractive errors like near-sightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism are other common vision diseases that affect people of all ages and need glasses as treatment.
Some simple measures to ensure a child’s eyes remain healthy are:
A well-balanced diet cannot be stated enough. When we think of food that is good for eyes; carrots come to mind immediately, carrots are full of vitamin A which is essential for good eyesight. Apart from carrots there are other options as well. Eggs (with yolk) are vital for eyesight as they are full of protein and zinc; the zinc enables the body to utilise the carotenoids from the yolk, which will protect the macula (which control central vision). Fish contains omega-3 fatty acids that are great for retinal health. Salmon, tuna, among other sea food, contain a variety of fatty acids that strengthen eyesight, prevent glaucoma and avoid dry eyes. Spinach, kale and other leafy greens rich in vitamin C and E lower the risk of long-term eye diseases. Orange coloured fruits and vegetables like mangoes, apricots, sweet potatoes contain vitamin A and C. Vitamin A helps the eye better adjust to darkness and Vitamin C helps the body produce and preserve connective tissue in the eye. Sunflower Seeds and Nuts like almonds are great preservers of vision. These contain vitamin E, which can slow down macular degeneration over time. All in all, a child must be given a diet which comprises all essential vitamins.
Non dietary precautions that can be taken are basically ensuring a safe and risk-free environment for a child.
Extended hours of screen time, especially screens up-close, such as tablets and smart phones can cause minus powers (myopia) in children. They also cause the children to “stare” leading to dry eye and fatigue. Children must view television or any kind of screen from afar or a safe distance, never too close to the screen and always with a light on. They must blink every few minutes and the screen should be placed lower than the eyes, if the screens are up-close. There has to be limited screen time.
If a child is constantly rubbing her eyes, she must be stopped as the hands can transmit infections like conjunctivitis to the eyes, instead some cool water can be applied.
Children must be made aware of eye hygiene- how to clean their eyes and eyelashes with clean water.
Children must be taught the importance of protective eye wear during times like Diwali and Holi to prevent chemical damage to their eye, and to take care when they play with sharp toys to avoid injury to the eyes.
A child’s eyes are the windows to his future- if nurtured well, they open up numerous possibilities!