Twenty percent of children head to school with undiagnosed sight issues – but who’s to blame? According to research, parents prioritise hair cuts over eye checks, with 53 per cent of parents taking their children to a hair salon four times a year, while only 36 per cent take them for an annual visit to the optician. However, if a child is struggling to see at school, then they will find learning in the classroom incredibly difficult. More worryingly, there are 40 to 50 new cases of a rare form of childhood eye cancer (retinoblastoma) diagnosed in the UK each year.
With any eyesight problem, the earlier it can be detected and treated, the better. However, according to another study, 24 per cent of parents have not had their child’s eyesight tested before the age of eight. So, here are some FAQ about children’s eyesight to help you decide if now is the time to book your child’s appointment.
- When does eyesight develop?
A newborn baby cannot focus further than around eight to 15 inches, has poor depth perception and difficulty distinguishing between colours. Eyesight develops rapidly over the first months of life and is near to fully developed by around eight months. However, eyesight continues to develop until around the age of seven or eight years old.
- When should I take my child for her first eye test?
Your baby’s eyes will be given a basic examination at birth, and then again at the six-week check. It’s recommended you take your child for her first eye test at four years of age. However, if you have any concerns at any point, it’s important to take your child to an optician as soon as possible.
- What signs could suggest my child is having difficulty seeing?
Children rarely complain about their sight as they probably won’t realise they have a problem. However, there are many telltale signs including sitting too close to the television, squinting or closing one eye when reading or watching television, rubbing their eyes, holding objects very close to their face, turning or tilting the head when looking at an object, blinking a lot, one eye turning either out or in and headaches.
- Will I have to pay for an eye test?
On the NHS, eye tests are free for children up to the age of 16. You will also get a voucher to help towards the cost of your child’s glasses, should she need them.
- What will happen during the test?
The optician will ask some questions about your child’s health and about anyone else in the family who wears glasses to help build up a picture of your child’s eyes. To test your child’s ability to focus, she will be shown a card with pictures or letters to identify. There will also be tests to check your child’s eye muscles, colour and 3D vision and the optician will shine a light into your child’s eyes to check their health.
Before the tests, your child may be given eyedrops which relax the focusing mechanism in the eye so that the prescription for glasses, if needed, can be as accurate as possible. Eyedrops also make the pupils larger so the back of the eye can be seen properly.
- How often should my child have an eye test?
If your child has a problem, she will need another test in six to 12 month’s time. If your child’s sight is normal, she should be tested every two years, as problems can occur at any age.
- Will my child’s eyesight be tested at school?
Many schools screen children at around four or five years of age, and some have regular eyesight screenings every couple of years. However, a screening is not as comprehensive as an optician’s test, so it is important to take your child to the optician regularly.
- How important is it for my child to wear sunglasses?
Wearing sunglasses is vital. The biggest danger to your child’s eyesight is UV radiation from sunlight. Because children’s eyes are not fully developed, they are more susceptible to damage than those of adults. Children also love playing outside. so have a higher exposure to sunlight. Their eyes receive three times the annual UV exposure of an adult’s eyes and 80 per cent of lifetime exposure to UV happens during childhood. UV exposure can increase the chance of developing cataracts in later life and can damage the retina, causing macular degeneration which leads to blindness.
Sunglasses provide essential protection. Be sure to choose lenses with a CE marking which conform to BS EN 1836: 2005. Children who wear glasses will need prescription sunglasses or photochromic lenses, such as those by Transitions, which adapt to the light conditions.