THINK YOUR CHILD IS TOO YOUNG TO HAVE THEIR EYES CHECKED?
The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) recommends children start receiving comprehensive eye exams as early as six to nine months. And don’t worry, as Dr. Gillian Pengelly of Underhill Optometry in North York, Ontario, points out, your child doesn’t even have to be taken out of their car seat or carrier. “At that age, we’re checking into the health of their eyes, and if they’re seeing properly and developing on track. We also look for conditions that could impair eye health or vision such as congenital cataracts, strabismus (misalignment or crossing of the eyes), and retinal issues.”
The OAO also recommends children between the ages of two and five get at least one check-up, and then from 6 to 19 get annual check-ups.
What is important is ensuring a comprehensive eye exam is part of your child’s wellness and prevention plan. Just like annual check-ups with your doctor or dentist, seeing your optometrist is a physical for your eyes and an integral part of your child’s good eye health. Pengelly says an annual eye exam is about prevention as undetected or uncorrected vision problems can cause children and teens to suffer academically, socially, athletically, and personally.
So, why are comprehensive check-ups needed? “Kids might not even know they’re having a problem with their eyes or vision,” says Pengelly. “If their vision has always been a certain way, they’re not going to know that maybe that’s not what it’s supposed to be like – it’s not ‘normal’.”
“Vision is one of the most important senses for child development,” says the City of Toronto Vision Health for School-Age Children. “Research shows that 80 per cent of children learn through their eyes. However, one in four school-age children may have a vision problem that, if left undetected, can affect their learning and development.”
In some schools, vision screening programs are available. However, these are not the same as a comprehensive eye exam given by an optometrist.
Vision Screening versus Comprehensive Eye Test?
“Vision screenings are limited to the extent of what they can test and can miss kids who need intervention. Unfortunately, these tests can give parents a false sense of security and are not a substitute for a comprehensive exam,” points out Pengelly. “A comprehensive eye test includes a general health assessment of the front and back of the eye that can help detect childhood eye diseases like congenital cataracts, glaucoma and on the rarer side cancers. The exam also tests their vision, eye muscle and eye coordination. So, is the child nearsighted or farsighted? Do they have astigmatism, or is one eye seeing better than the other? There’s also binocular vision, which is how the eyes move and work together. Can they bring and keep things into focus? And can they track objects properly?”
In Ontario, parents should take advantage of their OHIP coverage, as OHIP covers the cost of an annual comprehensive eye check-up for children 19 years of age and under. As well, if your child is in junior or senior kindergarten, born in 2017 and 2018, and glasses are required, the Eye See…Eye Learn program will provide a complimentary pair of glasses at no cost per child, with an estimated value of over $300. These are provided courtesy of participating optometrists and their exclusive corporate partners Essilor Vision Foundation Canada and Modern Optical Canada. The offer ends June 30th, 2023, and the next round starts July 1st, 2023, for children born in 2018-2019. For details on this program and to find a participating optometrist, visit optom.on.ca/esel.
Last word – has the digital world impacted the eyesight of children? “What we can definitely say is that there’s been an increase in digital eye strain, dry eyes, tired eyes, blurred vision, frontal headaches which we would normally see in adults, and now kids are experiencing these symptoms,” says Pengelly. The verdict is still out regarding the direct link between digital screen time and myopia. However, Pengelley says, “Parents can delay the onset of myopia by encouraging outdoor activity over screen time, especially limiting non-academic digital devices and get your kids to spend at least two hours a day outdoors.” Your eyes are your windows to the world – take care of them. Healthy habits mean healthy eyes. “VISION IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SENSES FOR CHILD DEVELOPMENT.”