My Child’s Vision: How to Treat Visual Impairment

So your child needs help with his/her vision, what’s the next step? Optician Kerk Davies talks us through the practical steps: choosing spectacle frames, contacts lenses for kids, overnight solutions…

Before the age of two it is usually difficult for a child to express their vision problem. If your child has a strabismus (an eye turns in or out when focussing on something), you can usually see it, friends and family are also, usually, quite quick at expressing concern. It often becomes obvious before the age of two. If so, seek professional opinion. Don’t panic though, the first six years is the period to sort the issue, but the sooner the better.

The eye profession normally recommends eye checks from the age of two. We are usually able to determine whether there is a vision issue that needs attention. Instruments are available to determine long or short sightedness even without being able to read letters. The first thing to do is find out whether they have vision in each eye, then try to obtain more information about how they see.

How is a child’s vision corrected?

Correcting vision is most commonly done with spectacles but contact lenses are picking up momentum for youngsters. Most children are positive about wearing glasses, especially if a schoolmate has some (sometimes they try it on with us to convince us that they need glasses), but it is good to have a positive attitude.

Very young spectacle wearers may need curl sides or a head band to keep their glasses secure. It is usually best to build up the wearing time slowly. When they are used to being seen in them they will be more comfortable to ‘go public’.

Choosing a suitable spectacle frame is a matter of negotiating with the wearer, at any age, as they have to be seen in them. The fitting will be guided by the expert. All sorts of shapes and colours are available. Even designer labels are found on kids’ specs these days.

What if my child doesn’t want to wear glasses?

Alternative solutions are available, including contact lenses. Even babies have can be fitted with them. This would be a special case, such as following the removal of cataracts. Implant lens replacements would not be practical as they tend to deteriorate after about 35 years (not a problem for the more usual 75-year-olds).

Another solution is the so-called orthokeratology, which entails fitting rigid material lenses to be worn overnight (sleeping eyes tend not to feel the discomfort). The grip of the lens moulds the cornea during sleep. Removing them in the morning renders the eyes corrected for the day.

This approach also helps to harness the sight condition, helping to reduce the future level of correction required. This system does have limitations in terms of power restrictions +/- 3 dioptres, but age is not an issue in a lot of cases.

Other more traditional contact lenses are also possible, depending on the child’s attitude and cleanliness. Children as young as five years of age can be taught to insert and remove contact lenses but eight is a more common starting age.

The main benefits of contact lens wear from an early age are better peripheral vision (which encourages a more outgoing, sporty approach to life), takes weight off the nose, gives cosmetic freedom from the ‘four eyes’ image and engenders a sense of being quite clever.

Children’s eyewear should be fun

All in all, eyewear can be fun as well as helping your child to see. It is always best to promote a positive attitude, even if you have never appreciated your own bespectacled situation. Educational development and safety, along with a host of other advantages, rely on good vision.

Eye examinations are free for all children up to the age of 19 in the UK, whilst in full-time education.

Next in the series: colour vision, how it works and what impaired colour vision can mean.

Does your son or daughter wear glasses? How did they feel about it? Did you let them choose their own? Let us know in the comment section below…