Eye Health in Ireland
75% of vision loss and blindness is preventable when detected and treated early. Children’s eyes do not fully develop until they are 7 or 8 years old so it is extremely important to identify any vision issues before this age. Because a child’s visual system is still developing up to the age of 7, it is possible to prevent many threats to their vision up to this age.
There are over 220,000 people in Ireland who are blind or have some form of vision impairment. This is forecast to increase by over 20% by the year 2020, meaning 1 in 5 more people in Ireland will have some form of blindness or vision impairment compared to the current figures. This is why early detection is key and good practices for eye health are best put in place from early childhood.
Eye Tests and Early Detection
Between 6 months and 6 years of age is a critical time for a child’s future eye health. According to the Association of Optometrists Ireland, 95% of what a child learns is through their eyes. If eyesight is impaired, this can lead to behavioural issues and learning difficulties. Taking regular eye tests is extremely important during the early school going years because a child’s whole world focuses on learning and knowledge through reading, writing, drawing and playing with other children.
A child with undetected eyesight problems can seriously damage their ability to engage. Back to school time at the beginning of term each year in September is a great time to remember to get a child’s eyes tested. It is estimated that 1 in 4 school going children have some form of issue with their eyesight.
Signs of Vision Impairment in Children
The Association of Optometrists Ireland, identify the following list as common signs of potential visible problems in children:
• Holding items too close to their faces
• Frequent headaches, especially in older children
• Rubbing their eyes frequently and blinking
• Avoiding reading and / or difficulty with reading, frequently losing their place on a page
• Covering one eye or tilting their head
• Poor memory retention of what they have already read or studied
• A reduced attention span when it comes to activities
• Complaining they are unable to see the blackboard or TV
• Their eye turning in or out
Common Childhood Eye Conditions
Four of the most common eye conditions that can surface in childhood include Amblyopia, Myopia, Hyperopia and Astigmatism.
This happens when the eye simply cannot see as well as it should. It is more commonly known as ‘lazy eye’. It is treatable and important that is identified as early as possible in order to treat it. If it is done before the age of 7, then the risk of poor eyesight is reduced significantly
More commonly called ‘Short Sightedness’, if a child cannot see well in the distance this becomes an issue at school while a child strains to see the blackboard or playing sports. Small amounts of Myopia are not a major problem and glasses on prescription can alleviate the symptoms.
On the opposite end, Hyperopia is more commonly called ‘Long Sightedness’. All children are actually long sighted, however the individual muscles in their eyes allow them to overcome this normally and enable them to see up close. If a child is more long sighted than normal, they will not be able to use these muscles and their close vision will suffer. Glasses on prescription can help the symptoms.
A certain amount of astigmatism is common in young children and does not need correcting. But, if is too high then this can cause vision problems. Any parent who feels their child is suffering from this or any form of eye condition should consult with their family Optician.
Back to School Eye Care Tips
Children will be children. They will play, fight and grow and their health is always a concern to any parent. When they return to school after a summer off, they will have forgotten how to take care of their eyes and gentle reminders on eye care will help them get back into routine.
#Top Tip 1
Wear protective eyewear when playing sports. Examples of protective eyewear include goggles or a helmet-mounted eye/face shield. These can drastically reduce the risk of any serious eye injury. For parents the best way is to lead by example as children pick up on these cues.
#Top Tip 2
Encourage children to wash their hands regularly and to avoid touching their eyes as much as they possibly can. A study published by the American Journal of Infection Control reports that more than 164 million school days are lost because of the spread of infectious diseases. Hands and human contact spread disease. 3 million of these lost school days are as a direct result of acute conjunctivitis, commonly called ‘Pink Eye’.
#Top Tip 3
Sunglasses are actually not ‘too-cool-for-school’. In fact, anyway in which a parent can reduce glare while their child is working (doing homework for example) is good. Glare forces the eyes to work twice as hard as they need, compared to if there is no glare. Another reason to purchase sunglasses for children is that many children participate in after school outdoor activities which can leave them exposed to harmful UV rays from the sun. Sunglasses with UV protection will foster and encourage children to prioritise good eye care as they grow up.
The best way to help your child’s future eye health is to take them for eye tests regularly, watch out for signs of potential eye problems, get treatment for any common condition they might develop and instill good eye care practices at home which they will take with them to school.