How to look after your childs eyes

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Information & Advice

Written on08/07/2010

How to look after your child's eyes

By the time your child reaches the age of two – and they can communicate and recognise shapes – it's a good idea to take them on their first trip to the optician's.

Dr Rob Hogan

Two may still seem quite young but, according to Dr Rob Hogan, an optometrist with nearly 30 years' experience, there are many potential eye problems that can be corrected at this early stage.

"If a parent goes to have their eyes examined, it's good to take their child with them so they can see there's nothing to be scared of," says Rob, who is the head of professional services at Boots Opticians.

"We would encourage parents to bring children to see an optician from around the age of two and earlier than that, if necessary, although the amount of information we can get is limited."

Bring some photographs

When you arrive with your child for an appointment, it's helpful to bring a collection of photographs of your baby's face for your optometrist to examine. "The first time you take your child to the optometrist, you should bring photographs of your child from birth onwards," says Rob. "That way an optometrist can build up a bit of a history of your child's eyes – for example by looking at the way the light reflects on them – and can see if there is any defect."

What the tests involve

At two, there are a number of basic tests an optometrist can carry out to ascertain how well your child can see. As well as giving the child simplified versions of the eye-tests adults take – such as reading letters from a chart or card – an optometrist can examine the eyes to ensure they are working as they should be. "We can check whether the eyes are working together as one single unit," says Rob. "If one of the eyes has a refractive error that isn't corrected early on, it can lead to something called amblyopia or lazy eye. Then we can also check whether the eye muscles are working in harmony. That's very important because, if they're not, you can develop a squint.

"Colour vision is also important. Ten per cent of boys are red/ green defective, meaning that they confuse certain shades of red and green. "Your optometrist can also make sure your child's eyes are perfectly clear and that there are no cataracts or diseases present. Although cataracts are more usually associated with older generations, children can, in fact, be born with the condition but this would normally be checked at the hospital after birth.

Early is better

All of these issues can be detected and, in most cases corrected – provided they are spotted early enough – for example with eye-patches, contact lenses or glasses.

"The part of the brain that gets messages from the eyes has matured by the age of seven so if there's an issue that's not corrected by then it could potentially stay with you for the rest of your life," warns Rob.

If your child does need contact lenses or glasses, there are many different options for parents."Increasingly, children are being fitted with contact lenses," says Rob. "It's entirely a matter of preference – for parents and the child."

Trendy glasses

Indeed, some children are actually quite partial to being given a pair of glasses.

"These days, spectacles are very trendy," says Rob. There's no stigma attached to them – as there was, for example, to NHS glasses when I was growing up. In fact, you have a struggle sometimes to persuade children they don't need glasses!"

Monkey Monkey's Rimless Sunglasses for boys
Monkey Monkey's Rimless Sunglasses for boys

Eye tests are free to anyone up to the age of 16 or – if they're still in full-time education – up to the age of 19. Nowadays, instead of providing the old NHS spectacles, the NHS offers a voucher that can be used towards the cost of a pair of glasses. The price of the voucher depends on the strength of your requirement.

Sun protection

Even if your child is lucky enough to have excellent vision, it's still important that you encourage them to protect their eyes."We are starting to know more about the impact of the sun's ultraviolet (U.V.) rays on our eyes," explains Rob.

"U.V. is one of the key causes of age-related macular degeneration and is actually the Western world's biggest cause of irreversible sight loss. The World Health Organisation states that half the ultraviolet light a person will absorb through their eyes during their lifetime comes before the age of 18." This is because a child's pupils are much bigger than an adult's and they spend more time outside and, therefore, have more exposure to the sun.

Parents' responsibility

"Therefore parents have a huge responsibility to make sure their kids wear sunglasses," says Rob. "I would recommend you get your children to wear sunglasses not just on the beach but every time they play outside, where practical. It may sound daft but, as we come to learn more about the long term damage U.V. causes, it's actually very sensible."

Rob suggests you look for the British Standard Institution number when choosing sunglasses for you or your child. "If they have the BS EN 1836:1997 number on them or a UV400 sticker, they should be fine," he says. "And kids are usually happy to wear sunglasses. I just don't think a lot of parents understand why it's so important that they do."

Monkey Monkey's Rimless Pink Sunglasses for girls
Boots Soltan Pink Sunglasses for girls
Monkey Monkey's Rimless Pink Sunglasses for girls
Boots Soltan Pink Sunglasses for girls

You can find a host of children's sunglasses on, such as the colourful Monkey Monkey Girls' Glasses or the girls' Soltan Sunglasses. All sunglasses come with full UV protection.

Find out more at BootsWebMD
Eye Health Centre

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