What are childhood eye disorders?
Childhood is, by definition, the stage at which a person’s Visual System develops. Specifically, the beginning of the visual system development occurs before birth and ends at around the age of 10-12.
It is essential to control its development at this stage. Although in the vast majority of cases, childhood eye disorders are not serious, it is necessary to treat them as soon as possible.
The most frequent childhood eye disorders are related to refraction defects such as Myopia, Hypermetropy and Astigmatism. Among the least common disorders are Amblyopia or “lazy eye”, Strabismus and Congenital Cataract.
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Taking steps to guarantee correct vision is also very important during school years as children are acquiring knowledge and skills which will have a bearing on their future and in which the condition of their vision plays a decisive role. It should be remembered that one of the main causes of failure at school is directly related to impaired vision.
A child will never complain about his/her vision; they simply believe that what they see is normal.
Detecting childhood eye disorders
Parents and teachers are responsible for detecting the existence of possible childhood eye disorders.
The logical schedule for eye tests during childhood is:
- Between the ages of 2 and 3: This is the age at which it is possible to begin to detect and treat amblyopia, also known as “lazy eye”.
- Between the ages of 3 and 5: As part of the growth process of the child, it is possible to begin to detect refractive ocular disorders at this stage and if any are detected, an annual test should be carried out to assess the development of the grading. Incorrect prescription glasses will be completely useless.
- From the age of 6: A test every 3/4 years is recommended in the event that the Child has not been affected by any ocular disorder up to that time.
More commonly referred to as “lazy eye”, this childhood eye disorder involves the visual information of one of the eyes being “ignored” by the brain. In most cases, the brain rejects it because that eye has a refraction problem (it needs glasses) or presents strabismus (twists the eye).
When the visual maturation period ends at around the age of 6-7, the affected eye will not be able to improve its vision despite the fact that it is anatomically normal, and this will result in the loss of binocular vision, i.e. what allows us to perceive the three-dimensionality of things.
It can be detected via an eye test. The child is not able to detect it by himself/herself, let alone express that he/she cannot see properly. It is vitally important that parents and teachers watch out for some external symptoms. For instance, if the child tends to turn his/her head or winks either eye systematically when reading or looking at an object. It is not always easy because a child’s eye has a very high visual accommodation capacity which means that, even if they have this disorder, they can live a completely normal life without the adults in their lives being able to detect it.
Traditionally, the “healthy” eye was temporarily obstructed using a patch with a view to enabling the “lazy eye” to regain functionality. Moreover, “Visual Therapy” is currently used as a support; this technique consists of performing simple vision exercises monitored by an Optometrist. A suitable grading is absolutely necessary.
Various sessions of Visual Therapy are usually required and the child is even required to perform a number of exercises set by the Optometrist at home.
This children’s eye disorder involves the loss of parallelism in eyesight. In other words, each eye is able to look in a different direction.
The basic cause of strabismus is when the muscles which allow the eyes to move do not act in a coordinated manner.
The consequence is identical to that of Amblyopia: each eye attempts to send the image that it sees to the brain which ends up rejecting one of the images transmitted by the less dominant eye, thereby turning it into a “lazy eye”.
As in the case of Amblyopia, this defect must be detected and treated at the earliest possible time.
However, at times and except in cases where the variance is very obvious, it is not always easy to detect the existence of strabismus by observation.
An eye test will have to be carried out by the ophthalmologist with a view to detecting any alterations in extrinsic motility and checking the grading requirement by pupil dilatation.
In less accentuated cases, it may be enough to apply the same measures as for Amblyopia, i.e. the obstruction of the healthy eye using a patch, suitable grading or the establishment of a plan of Visual Therapy exercises.
In more complicated cases, it may be necessary to perform surgery to correct the eye motor muscles.
Frequently asked questions about childhood eye disorders
Can light damage children's eyes?
Generally speaking, no. In actual fact, contact with light is good for the effective development of the eyes. However, if you are thinking about spending the day at the beach, as in the case of adults, you should appropriately protect your eyesight with sunglasses. It should be taken into consideration that children are three times more sensitive to solar radiation than adults.
Can children spend prolonged periods in front of a screen?
As in the case of adults, children should spend moderate periods of time in front of screens and at a correct distance (two metres in front of an average-sized TV, 50 centimetres for a computer or a similar screen).
Can amblyopia be fully treated?
Yes, practically all cases of this childhood eye disorder are able to be fully treated provided that it is detected in time.
Are Amblyopia and Strabismus hereditary?
Both childhood eye disorders may occur in children by genetic influence. But the causes of these disorders are so varied that it cannot be asserted that, if a child suffers from either, it is because it has been passed on by either parent. We can simply say that any children whose parents previously suffered from amblyopia or strabismus are more likely to experience them themselves.
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