Does your kid … keep rubbing his or her eyes? Complains of discomfort? Refuses to read for long or does so by covering one eye? Has difficulty remembering what he or she read or loses their place easily when reading?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes then it is necessary for your child to have a detailed check-up with a doctor or an optometrist.
As per the American Optometrist Association, “Undetected and untreated, vision problems can elicit some of the very same signs and symptoms commonly attributed to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), like hyperactivity and distractibility.”
COVID-19 and children’s eye health
As per a 2019 US National Health Interview Survey, in the 2-to-17-year age range, 25.3 per cent of kids either wore glasses or contact lenses; that the percentage increased with age among both boys and girls.
Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is also responsible for the uptick in kids’ frames; when the pandemic hit in 2020, it stilled the face-to-face teaching method, resulting in large swaths of time spent staring at screens. “We are seeing a ‘myopia pandemic’ among children due to their prolonged exposure to screens, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Dr Luai T. Eldweik, Associate Staff Physician at the Eye Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi.
We are seeing a ‘myopia pandemic’ among children due to their prolonged exposure to screens, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a condition in which people can see objects near them clearly, but those farther away are blurry. We are seeing more children with increasing eye power. When this number increases significantly, it turns from a simple myopia, which can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, to pathological myopia, which is associated with complications such as retinal detachment and macular degeneration,” he explains.
But while it’s catching up, myopia isn’t the most common eye disease in the UAE – that crown lies with the ‘lazy eye’. “The most concerning eye disease that we see in children here is amblyopia or lazy eye. This is reduced vision in one eye caused by abnormal visual development early in life,” adds Dr Eldweik.
Does my child have a lazy eye?
Don’t be worried if you can’t tell whether your child has a lazy eye – it often goes undetected because children with the condition don’t complain about their sight.
When there is a difference in the ability of the eyes to focus, the brain compensates for the one with weaker vision by using the one with the better vision. Typically, this condition develops from birth up to the age of seven, says Dr Eldweik.
“The treatment, when addressed at an early age, is simple. It includes glasses and using a patch on the good eye for a few months. Most patients respond to this as long as they are consistent with wearing the glasses and eye patch. A child may only need surgery if they have other eye diseases such as strabismus, a condition in which the eyes do not line up with one another,” adds the doctor.
“If lazy eye is not treated on time, the child ends up using only one eye. Eventually, this impacts their binocular vision and significantly reduces their depth perception. This means that they are unable to assess distances, especially in space. So if a child is playing a sport like football, they will not be able to detect how close the ball is to them, which can cause injuries,” warns Dr Eldweik.
What’s the right age for an eye exam?
And that’s key – treating the trouble on time; the earlier the detection, the better it is. Did you know? In the UAE, infants have a newborn red reflex eye exam? “The test involves shining a light into their eye for a direct visualisation of their retina to help detect structural issues and congenital cataract,” explains Dr Eldweik. “Our recommendation, which is also consistent with that of the American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology, is that parents bring their children in for a full eye exam in the first six months to three years of their life. This is particularly important if there is a family history of eye diseases, including lazy eye, strabismus or other errors in vision,” he explains.
What does an eye assessment involve?
Dr Eldweik says that a full eye exam involves an assessment of a child’s vision and alignment of the eyes. “One of the most important parts of exam is using eye drops to dilate them. This helps the physician look inside the eyes and examine any refractive error in the child’s vision to come up with the right treatment plan,” he adds.
How often should I have my child’s vision tested?
“As a child’s vision is constantly changing during the first decade of their life, we also recommend an eye exam every two to three years for children who are not found to have any eye problems,” he adds.
“Children should be tested for vision and their glasses’ power checked at least twice a year from preschool age to 15 years of age. It is very important in today’s times with the heavy use of mobiles, tabs and laptops for online education and entertainment,” adds Dr Dheeraj Kewlani, Specialist Ophthalmologist, Retina, Cataract and Lasik Surgeon, Aster Jubilee Medical Center.
Can I rectify my child’s vision using laser treatments?
Lasik, or Laser Insitu Keratomileusis, is a way to reshape the cornea for better focus of image over the retina. Dr Kewlani explains: “Laser actually causes thinning of the cornea by burning it and without damaging it. The cornea of our eyes has a particular thickness and we need to make it thin to obtain a clear focus of image over retina. It’s like a book that has been made thin by gently removing the central pages without damaging the front and back covers. This is what Lasik does to the cornea. It makes it thinner without damaging it.
“Normally, glass power is of two types - plus power (used for those who are farsighted) or minus power (used for the nearsighted). Lasik is more useful for people having minus power glasses than people with plus power glasses,” he adds.
There are many parameters that need to be met before a person become eligible for Lasik. Dr Kewlani lists these as:
- The power of the glasses used: Must be within the range of +3.0 to -6.0 Diopters
- Thickness of cornea: The thickness of cornea more than 0.55
- Age: Lasik should not be considered before 21 years of age. The upper age limit is variable for different patients with different jobs and lifestyles.
There is a caveat to the age limit. “For kids there is special condition where we recommend laser vision correction (Lasik or photorefractive keratectomy) - the lazy eye, because of differences in vision in both eyes,” explains Dr Osama Giledi, Corneal and Refractive Surgery Specialist at Moorfields Eye Hospital Dubai.
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