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All About Vision

Why are Eye Exams Important?

For both adults and children alike, eye exams are an important part of one’s general health maintenance and assessment. Your eyes should be checked regularly to ensure that you are able to see as best as possible. Regular eye health exams will also check for signs of eye disease or conditions that can affect not only your vision but your overall health. Vision and eye health is such a critical part in learning and development, therefore, we highly recommend eye exams for infants and children.

Vision Screening vs. an Eye Exam

When we recommend regular eye exams, this should not be confused with a vision screening. A vision screening is a basic test that indicates if you have difficulty seeing and require further assessment and corrective measures. It can be performed by anyone, whether it is a school nurse, a pediatrician or even a volunteer at a vision clinic. A vision screening usually only checks vision, it does not check eye health. Also, most vision screenings for kids only check for nearsightedness (when you can not see far), but what happens when the majority of children are farsighted? Most of the time many of these kids get overlooked.

A comprehensive eye exam on the other hand, can only be performed by an eye doctor as it requires special knowledge and equipment to look around and into your eye to check your eye and vision health. Such an exam can assess whether there are underlying causes for vision problems and whether there are any signs of disease which can threaten your site and the health of your eye. A comprehensive eye examination can also diagnose symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tumors, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and thyroid disorders. A comprehensive eye examination will also provide an accurate prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Eye Exams for Eye Health

Eye exams are critical because many vision threatening eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, or diabetic retinopathy have no or minimal symptoms until the disease has progressed. In these cases, early detection and treatment is essential to halting or slowing down the progression of the disease and saving eyesight. During a comprehensive eye examination, your eye doctor will be looking for initial signs of these diseases. If a problem with your eyes arises such as red eyes, eye allergies, dry eyes, eye swelling,eye pain, always seek an eye doctor as your first doctor to call since they are specifically trained to treat eye diseases.

Eye Exams and Children

If your child is having developmental delays or trouble in school there could be an underlying vision problem. Proper learning, motor development, reading, and many other skills are dependent upon not only good vision, but your eyes functioning together. Children that have problems with focusing or hand-eye coordination will often experience frustration and may exhibit behavioral problems as well. Often they don’t know that the vision they are experiencing is abnormal so they aren’t able to express that they need help. Many conditions are much easier to treat when they are caught early while the eyes are still developing, so it is important to diagnose any eye health and vision issues as early as possible.

Eye Exams Over 40

Just like the rest of our bodies, our eyes begin to weaken as we age. There are a number of common age-related eye conditions such as presbyopia, cataracts, and age-related macular degeneration that can begin to affect your vision and your daily life. While some of these conditions are more of an inconvenience, others could lead to vision loss and dependency.

In addition to regular yearly eye exams, it is important to be aware of any changes in your eye health and vision. Also know your potential risk factors as well as your family ocular and medical history. Over half of the vision loss worldwide is preventable with proper treatment and care.

Eye Floaters and Spots

Eye floaters are spots, squiggles or flecks that appear to drift into your visual field. Usually they are harmless, a benign, albeit annoying sign of aging. If however, your floaters are accompanied by a sudden loss of vision, pain or flashes, they could be a sign of an underlying serious eye condition and should be checked out by an eye doctor as soon as possible.

What are Eye Floaters and Spots?

Floaters, like their name, are specks or spots that float in and out of your visual field. Usually they move away when you try to focus on them. They can appear as dark dots, threads, squiggles, webs, or even rings.

But what causes them to appear? Floaters are shadows from clumps of fibers within the vitreous, the jelly-like substance in your eye, that are cast on the retina at the back of the eye. Usually, floaters don’t go away, but you tend to get used to them and eventually notice them less. Patients usually see them more when they are looking at a plain background, like the blue sky or a white wall.

In most cases, there is no treatment for floaters, people just get used to them, however if there are more serious symptoms that accompany them, there could be an underlying problem such as inflammation, diabetes or a retinal tear that needs to be addressed and treated. If the floaters are so serious that they are blocking your vision, a surgical procedure to remove the clumps may be performed.

What Causes Floaters?

Age: Although floaters may be present at any age, they are often more apparent as a result of aging. With time, the fibers in the vitreous begin to shrink and clump up as they pull away from the back of the eye. These clumps block some of the light passing through your eye, causing the shadows which appear as floaters. You are also more likely to develop floaters if you are nearsighted.

Eye Surgery or Injury: Individuals who have previously had an injury, trauma or eye surgery are more susceptible to floaters. This includes cataract surgery and laser surgery as well as other types of eye surgery.

Eye Disease: Certain eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, eye tumors or severe inflammation can lead to floaters.

Retinal Tears or Detachment: Retinal tears or detachments can be a cause of floaters. A torn retina can lead to a retinal detachment which is a very serious condition where the retina separates from the back of the eye and if untreated can lead to permanent vision loss.

When to See a Doctor

There are some cases where seeing spots is accompanied by other symptoms that could be a sign that there is a more serious underlying problem. The most common of these is seeing flashes of light. This often happens when the vitreous is pulling on the retina which would be a warning sign of a retinal detachment. Retinal detachment must be treated immediately or you can risk a permanent loss of vision. Flashes of light sometimes also appear as symptoms of migraine headaches.

If you experience a sudden onset or increase in floaters, flashes of light, pain, loss of side vision or other vision disturbances, see a doctor immediately. Further, if you have recently had eye surgery or a trauma and you are experiencing floaters during your recovery, it is advised to tell your doctor.

Generally, floaters are merely a harmless annoyance but keep an eye on your symptoms. As with any sudden or serious change in your health, it is worth having them checked out if they are really bothering you. In some cases, they may be an early warning sign of a serious problem that requires swift treatment to preserve your vision.

Eye Allergies

Along with congestion, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, headaches and difficulty breathing, individuals with allergies often suffer from eye allergies or allergic conjunctivitis resulting in red, watery, itchy and sometimes swollen eyes. Just as irritants cause an allergic response in your nasal and respiratory system, your eyes also react with an oversensitive immune response, triggered by an environmental substance that most people’s immune systems ignore. Most individuals with allergies also suffer from eye allergies which affect millions of North Americans, particularly with seasonal allergic conjunctivitis (SAC) which is common during the spring, summer and fall.

What Causes An Eye Allergy?

Eye allergies, or any allergies for that matter, occur when the immune system is hypersensitized to a stimulus in the environment that comes into contact with the eye. The allergen stimulates the antibodies in the cells of your eyes to respond by releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause the eyes and surrounding tissue to become inflamed, red, watery, burning and itchy.

Eye allergens can include:

  • Airborne substances found in nature such as pollen from flowers, grass or trees.
  • Indoor allergens such as pet dander, dust or mold.
  • Irritants such as cosmetics, chemicals, cigarette smoke, or perfume.

Tips for Coping With Eye Allergies

Allergies can go from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Knowing how to alleviate symptoms and reduce exposure can greatly improve your comfort and quality of life, particularly during allergy season which can last from April until October.

To reduce exposure to allergens:

  1. Stay indoors and keep windows closed when pollen counts are high, especially in the mid-morning and early evening.
  2. Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes, not only from UV rays, but also from airborne allergens.
  3. Avoid rubbing your eyes, this can intensify symptoms and increase irritation. When the eyes get itchy, it is difficult not to rub and scratch them. However, rubbing the eyes can aggravate the allergic cascade response, making them more swollen, red, and uncomfortable.
  4. Check and regularly clean your air conditioning filters.
  5. Keep pets outdoors if you have pet allergies and wash your hands after petting an animal.
  6. Use dust-mite-proof covers on bedding and pillows and wash linens frequently.
  7. Clean surfaces with a damp cloth rather than dusting or dry sweeping.
  8. Remove any mold in your home.
  9. Reducing contact lens wear during allergy season or switch to daily disposable contact lenses.

Treatment for the uncomfortable symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis include over-the-counter and prescription drops and medications. It is best to know the source of the allergy reaction to avoid symptoms. Often people wait until the allergy response is more severe to take allergy medication, but most allergy medications work best when taken just prior to being exposed to the allergen. Consult your eye doctor about your symptoms and which treatment is best for you.

Non-prescription medications include:

  • Artificial tears (to reduce dryness)
  • Decongestant eyedrops
  • Oral antihistamines

Prescription medications include eyedrops such as antihistamines, mast-cell stabilizers, or stronger decongestants as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.

Immunotherapy which are allergy injections given by an allergist are sometimes also helpful to assist your body in building up immunity to the allergens that elicit the allergic response.

If no allergy medicine is on hand, even cool compresses and artificial tears can help alleviate symptoms.

Finding the right treatment for your allergies can make all the difference in your quality of life, particularly during the time of year when most of us like to enjoy the outdoors.

Dry Eye Syndrome

Dry eye syndrome (DES or dry eye) is a chronic lack of sufficient lubrication and moisture on the surface of the eye. Its consequences range from minor irritation to the inability to wear contact lenses and an increased risk of corneal inflammation and eye infections.

Signs and Symptoms of Dry Eye

Persistent dryness, scratchiness and a burning sensation on your eyes are common symptoms of dry eye syndrome. These symptoms alone may be enough for your eye doctor to diagnose dry eye syndrome. Sometimes, he or she may want to measure the amount of tears in your eyes. A thin strip of filter paper placed at the edge of the eye, called a Schirmer test, is one way of measuring this.

Some people with dry eyes also experience a “foreign body sensation” – the feeling that something is in the eye. And it may seem odd, but sometimes dry eye syndrome can cause watery eyes, because the excessive dryness works to overstimulate production of the watery component of your eye’s tears.

What Causes Dry Eyes?

In dry eye syndrome, the tear glands that moisturize the eye don’t produce enough tears, or the tears have a chemical composition that causes them to evaporate too quickly.

Dry eye syndrome has several causes. It occurs:

  • As a part of the natural aging process, especially among women over age 40.
  • As a side effect of many medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, certain blood pressure medicines, Parkinson’s medications and birth control pills.
  • Because you live in a dry, dusty or windy climate with low humidity.

If your home or office has air conditioning or a dry heating system, that too can dry out your eyes. Another cause is insufficient blinking, such as when you’re staring at a computer screen all day.

Dry eyes are also associated with certain systemic diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, rosacea or Sjogren’s Syndrome (a triad of dry eyes, dry mouth, and rheumatoid arthritis or lupus).

Long-term contact lens wear, incomplete closure of the eyelids, eyelid disease and a deficiency of the tear-producing glands are other causes.

Dry eye syndrome is more common in women, possibly due to hormone fluctuations. Recent research suggests that smoking, too, can increase your risk of dry eye syndrome. Dry eye has also been associated with incomplete lid closure following blepharoplasty – a popular cosmetic surgery to eliminate droopy eyelids.

Treatment for Dry Eye

Dry eye syndrome is an ongoing condition that treatments may be unable to cure. But the symptoms of dry eye – including dryness, scratchiness and burning – can usually be successfully managed.

Your eyecare practitioner may recommend artificial tears, which are lubricating eye drops that may alleviate the dry, scratchy feeling and foreign body sensation of dry eye. Prescription eye drops for dry eye go one step further: they help increase your tear production. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe a steroid for more immediate short-term relief.

Another option for dry eye treatment involves a tiny insert filled with a lubricating ingredient. The insert is placed just inside the lower eyelid, where it continuously releases lubrication throughout the day.

If you wear contact lenses, be aware that many artificial tears cannot be used during contact lens wear. You may need to remove your lenses before using the drops. Wait 15 minutes or longer (check the label) before reinserting them. For mild dry eye, contact lens rewetting drops may be sufficient to make your eyes feel better, but the effect is usually only temporary. Switching to another lens brand could also help.

Check the label, but better yet, check with your doctor before buying any over-the-counter eye drops. Your eye doctor will know which formulas are effective and long-lasting and which are not, as well as which eye drops will work with your contact lenses.

To reduce the effects of sun, wind and dust on dry eyes, wear sunglasses when outdoors. Wraparound styles offer the best protection.

Indoors, an air cleaner can filter out dust and other particles from the air, while a humidifier adds moisture to air that’s too dry because of air conditioning or heating.

For more significant cases of dry eye, your eye doctor may recommend punctal plugs. These tiny devices are inserted in ducts in your lids to slow the drainage of tears away from your eyes, thereby keeping your eyes more moist.

If your dry eye is caused by meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD), your doctor may recommend warm compresses and suggest an in-office procedure to clear the blocked glands and restore normal function.

Doctors sometimes also recommend special nutritional supplements containing certain essential fatty acids to decrease dry eye symptoms. Drinking more water may also offer some relief.

If medications are the cause of dry eyes, discontinuing the drug generally resolves the problem. But in this case, the benefits of the drug must be weighed against the side effect of dry eyes. Sometimes switching to a different type of medication alleviates the dry eye symptoms while keeping the needed treatment. In any case, never switch or discontinue your medications without consulting with your doctor first.

Treating any underlying eyelid disease, such as blepharitis, helps as well. This may call for antibiotic or steroid drops, plus frequent eyelid scrubs with an antibacterial shampoo.

If you are considering LASIK, be aware that dry eyes may disqualify you for the surgery, at least until your dry eye condition is successfully treated. Dry eyes increase your risk for poor healing after LASIK, so most surgeons will want to treat the dry eyes first, to ensure a good LASIK outcome. This goes for other types of vision correction surgery, as well.

Blepharitis

Blepharitis is an eye condition characterized by an inflammation of the eyelids which causes redness, itching and irritation. The common eye condition is caused by either a skin disorder or a bacterial infection. Blepharitis is generally not contagious and can affect patients of any age. While it can be very uncomfortable, it usually does not pose any danger to your vision.

There are two types of blepharitis: anterior and posterior.

Anterior blepharitis occurs on the front of your eyelids in the area where the eyelashes attach to the lid. This form is less common and is usually caused by a bacterial infection or seborrheic dermatitis, which is a skin disorder (dandruff) that causes flaking and itching of the skin on the scalp and eyebrows. While it is more rare, allergies or mites on the eyelashes can also lead to this condition.

Posterior blepharitis occurs on the inner eyelid that is closer to the actual eyeball. This more common form is often caused by rosacea, dandruff or meibomian gland problems which affect the production of oil in your eyelids.

Symptoms of Blepharitis

Blepharitis can vary greatly in severity and cause a variety of symptoms which include:

  • Red, swollen eyelids
  • Itching
  • Burning or gritty sensation
  • Excessive tearing
  • Dry eyes
  • Crusting on eyelids

If left untreated, symptoms can become more severe such as:

  • Blurred vision
  • Infections and styes
  • Loss of eyelashes or crooked eyelashes
  • Eye inflammation or erosion, particularly the cornea
  • Dilated capillaries
  • Irregular eyelid margin

Treatment for Blepharitis

Treatment for blepharitis depends on the cause of the condition but a very important aspect is keeping the eyelids clean. Warm compresses are usually recommended to soak the lids and loosen any crust to be washed away. It is recommended to use a gentle cleaner (baby soap or an over the counter lid-cleansing agent) to clean the area.

For bacterial infections, antibiotic drops or ointments may be prescribed, and in serious cases steroidal treatment (usually drops) may be used.

Blepharitis is typically a recurring condition so here are some tips for dealing with flare-ups:

  • Use an anti-dandruff shampoo when washing your hair
  • Massage the eyelids to release the oil from the meibomian glands
  • Use artificial tears to moisten eyes when they feel dry
  • Consider breaking from use of contact lenses during the time of the flare-up and or switching to daily disposable lenses.

The most important way to increase your comfort with blepharitis is by keeping good eyelid hygiene. Speak to your doctor about products that he or she recommends.

Astigmatism

Many people have never heard of astigmatism, although it is an extremely common eye condition.

Astigmatism is one type of refractive error. Nearsightedness and farsightedness are other types of refractive error. Refractive errors are not eye diseases. Refractive error is a result of and imperfection of the size and shape of the eye, which results in blurry or double vision.

If left untreated, astigmatism may cause eyestrain, headaches, and blurry vision. If you have astigmatism you may not see objects in the distance or near without some form of distortion.

Symptoms of Astigmatism

Small amounts of astigmatism can go unnoticed, however, you may be suffering from eye fatigue, eyestrain, and headaches.

Astigmatism is a condition that usually can develops early in childhood. According to a study from The Ohio State University School of Optometry, 28% of school age children suffer from astigmatism. Parents should be aware that their children might not notice that their vision is blurry, not understanding that this is not normal. Nevertheless, astigmatism should be treated because vision problems can lead to learning problems and in extracurricular activities. Make sure to have your child’s eyes examined at an eye doctor’s office at least once a year.

Causes of Astigmatism

Astigmatism is generally caused by a cornea with an irregular shape. The cornea is the front, clear layer of the eye. With astigmatism, the cornea is not round and spherical and is instead irregular having two curves instead of one curve. Astigmatism in some cases could also be caused by the lens located inside the eye that is irregular in shape.

Eyes with astigmatism distort the light that comes into the eyes because the cornea is irregularly shaped. This causes the light rays entering the eye to create two images in the back of the eye (because of the two curves), instead of one image. This is what causes the distortion in sight.

Treatments for Astigmatism

For most people, their astigmatism is fully corrected using prescription glasses or contact lenses. If you select contact lenses to correct your vision, soft contact lenses are the most common option. If for whatever reason soft contact lenses are not an option, rigid gas permeable (RGP or GP) are also a great choice. Rigid gas permeable lenses usually give the clearest vision but the adaptation process will be significantly longer. Another option are hybrid contact lenses. These contacts have a center made from a rigid gas permeable (RGP) lens and an outer ring made of soft contact lens material. This type of lens provides both excellent clarity and comfort. LASIK could be another option to correct astigmatism. LASIK usually only corrects low levels of astigmatism and some patients with higher levels of astigmatism might not be candidates.

Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)

Amblyopia, which is also called “lazy eye”, is a disorder that affects the visual development in children. Amblyopia is difficult to correct just with the use of contact lenses, or eyeglasses. Ambylopia can cause vision loss if it is not treated early and properly. This vision disorder affects 2-3% of the population.

What are the symptoms of Amblyopia?

Usually children that are born with amblyopia, the symptoms start in early childhood. Some signs of amblyopia in children are squinting, closing one eye in order to see better, poor general vision, headaches, and eyestrain. Usually caretakers such as parents, caregivers, doctors, or nurses notice these symptoms and recommend the child for treatment.

What are the causes of Amblyopia?

Strabismus is usually the cause of amblyopia. Strabismus is the eyes aligning incorrectly. Amblyopia can also be caused when there is a large difference between the eyes in refractive errors (prescription much higher in one eye than the other). For example, one eye is nearsighted, while the other is farsighted. If amblyopia is not treated, the brain will learn to disregard the vision in the eye with amblyopia. The eye that is disregarded does not grow with clear image and vision loss can be permanent. This is why it is very important to get early treatment and take your child to see your eye doctor if any signs are apparent.

How is Amblyopia treated?

There are several treatments for amblyopia, depending on the cause. Often children are treated using vision therapy, which usually includes a patch on the better eye. Other treatments are atropine eye drops, correct prescription eyeglasses, or surgery.

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy consists of eye exercises, which aim to teach the eyes to work together. In cases of amblyopia, the exercises require the brain to recognize the affected eye, which restores vision in that eye. Some doctors place a patch over the more functional eye, which forces the less functional eye to work harder and become stronger. The patch is generally worn for a few hours a day. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment can last for weeks or months. Some children refuse to wear a patch, in those cases, a prosthetic contact lens is available. These contact lenses look like the regular eye, and are designed to block vision in that eye.

Atropine drops

Some doctors use atropine eye drops to treat amblyopia. These drops blur vision in the child’s better eye, forcing the weaker eye to work harder and get stronger. In the morning, one drop is instilled under eye doctor’s instructions. The advantage to this method of treatment is that the patch is avoided.

Prescription eyeglasses

If your child has developed amblyopia because of uncorrected vision, sometimes all that is needed is a pair of eyeglasses. When there is strong uncorrected prescription, or when there is a large difference in prescription between the two eyes, sometimes amblyopia can result. Your eye doctor may recommend eye patch therapy in addition to corrective lenses.

Surgery

Strabismus surgery is usually required if the amblyopia is due to a large eye turn. This type of surgery aligns the eyes and corrects the problem within the eye muscles. After the surgery the eyes will able to focus better. Additional vision therapy may be required after strabismus surgery.

Amblyopia must be treated as early as possible as there is no chance that it will resolve by itself. Untreated amblyopia can lead to permanent vision loss in that eye and reduced depth perception. Amblyopia needs to be treated promptly so that your child can have the best vision possible in childhood and later in life. When amblyopia is diagnosed and treated before age 9, the weaker eye can often develop significantly better vision. The most critical time to treat amblyopia is from 3 to 6 years of age. If you or anyone sees any signs of amblyopia, go to your eye doctor to find the best treatment for your child.

Cataracts

Cataracts are one of the leading causes of vision loss in people over 45. A condition that commonly develops as the eye ages, by the time we reach 80, more than half of us will have developed a cataract.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in your eye which is normally transparent. The lens, located inside the eye, behind the iris and the pupil, focuses light onto the retina at the back of your eye, where it is converted to nerve signals that are passed to the brain, allowing you to see. When your lens becomes cloudy, the images projected onto your retina become blurry and unfocused and therefore the signal to the brain is also unclear. You can compare this to looking through a dirty or cloudy window. If the window is not clear, you can’t see well.

Usually cataracts develop slowly over time so your vision gradually worsens. While the majority of cataracts are a result of the aging process, there are also congenital cataracts that are present at birth, secondary cataracts that result from eye surgery or diseases such as glaucoma or diabetes and traumatic cataracts that result at any age from an injury to the eye.

While you may be able to live with mild or moderate cataracts, severe cataracts are treated with surgery. The procedure involves removing the clouded lens and replacing it with an intraocular lens (IOL) implant. Cataract surgery is a common procedure that has a very high success rate of restoring vision to patients. Modern cataract surgery is frequently done as an outpatient procedure. Patients will have greatly improved vision the next day, and will continue to improve over the next few weeks. Surgery is often done in one eye first, and surgery on the second eye, if needed, may be done 2 weeks later.

Learn more about the specifics of Cataracts on the links below:

    Children's Vision – FAQ's

    Most parents believe that if their child had an eye or vision problem they would know. However, this is far from the truth for a number of reasons. First of all, children often can’t express or don’t realize the difficulty they are having, and often vision problems will be overlooked by the associated behavioral issues that come as a result of frustration. Further, many eye or vision problems don’t show symptoms until they have progressed significantly which often makes the condition harder to treat.

    Conditions such as amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (crossed-eyes) can be corrected more effectively when they are diagnosed and treated early at a young age. Further, the sooner you diagnose and correct a vision problem, the sooner your child will be able to achieve his or her potential without struggling with these difficulties. This is why it is critical to have your child’s eyes examined by an eye doctor at regular intervals. Here are some FAQ’s and answers about Children’s Vision that every parent should know:

    Q: At what ages should children have their eyes examined?

    A: The official recommendations for the American and Canadian Optometric Associations are that infants should have their first eye exams at 6 months. Following that, children with no known vision issues should have another exam at 3 years and then prior to entering kindergarten. Children who do not require vision correction or therapy should have a vision checkup every year or two years and those who use vision correction should have an annual eye exam. Of course if your child is experiencing difficulty in school or after school activities that may be due to a vision problem schedule an eye exam immediately.

    Q: My child passed a vision screening by the nurse at school. Does he still need an eye exam?

    A: Yes. Many schools implement a basic vision screening test to assess whether the child sees clearly at a distance, however these tests are limited in scope. They do not assess functional vision such as the child’s ability to focus, track words on a page or the eyes’ ability to work in tandem. They also do not look at the health of the eye itself. These tests are essential to know the comprehensive picture of how healthy the eyes are and how well they are doing their job. In fact, studies shown that up to 43% of children with vision problems can pass a vision screening test! A comprehensive eye exam will assess all of these functions as well as color vision, depth perception, and eye coordination.

    Q: My child was diagnosed with strabismus and amblyopia. Can this be treated and if so, what are the options?

    A: Especially when diagnosed early, chances of a complete correction for strabismus and amblyopia are good when treated properly. The optimal age for this to occur is before 8-10 years old. Depending on the severity of the strabismus (crossed-eye), surgery may be required to straighten and properly align the crossed eyes. Amblyopia (lazy eye) can then be treated using eyeglasses, eye patching, or vision therapy to strengthen the weak eye and train the eyes to work together. A doctor that specializes in pediatric optometry can assess the condition and discuss treatment options on an individual basis.

    Q: What is vision therapy?

    A: Vision therapy is a doctor-supervised, individualized program of exercises to strengthen the functions of the eye. It is used to correct issues with eye alignment, focusing, coordination, tracking and more. Vision therapy often utilizes tools such as specialized lenses or prisms and involves exercises both during office visits and at home to reinforce the changes. The process usually takes about 6 months to see lasting improvement.

    Q: My son’s nearsightedness keeps getting worse – he needs a new prescription every year. Is there a way to stop this?

    A: There is research that shows that progressive myopia can be stopped or slowed during the childhood years. There are a number of therapies that are used for what is called “myopia control” including multifocal eyeglasses or contact lenses, orthokeratology (ortho-k) or atropine eye drops. Speak to a pediatric optometry specialist to learn more about the options and what might work best for your child.

    Q: Every morning it is a fight to get my child to wear her glasses. What can I do?

    A: It may take time for your child to adapt to the feel of the glasses and to be comfortable seeing with them. For little children, you can find glasses that come with integrated headbands that can help to hold the glasses in place. It helps to be consistent in putting them on to allow the child to adapt to the feel of the glasses.

    Very often, especially for small children that can’t tell you what is bothering them, the reason for a child’s refusal to wear glasses is that something is not comfortable. It could be that the prescription is not right, that the glasses pinch or that are feeling heavy. It could be worthwhile to take the glasses back to the eye doctor to ensure that they are in fact a proper fit.

    Q: At what age is it acceptable for a child to wear contact lenses?

    A: Contact lenses can be a great convenience, especially for kids that are active or tend to break or lose their glasses. However, they are a medical device that must be treated with proper care and hygiene. If a child is not responsible enough to take care of them properly he could end up with a serious eye infection, a scratched cornea or worse. Most experts agree that the youngest age that contact lenses should be considered would be between 10-12 depending on the child’s maturity and cleanliness. Consult with your eye doctor about what would be best for your child.

    Eye Exams for Children

    According to experts, 80% of learning is visual, which means that if your child is having difficulty seeing clearly, his or her learning can be affected. This also goes for infants who develop and learn about the world around them through their sense of sight. To ensure that your children have the visual resources they need to grow and develop normally, their eyes and vision should be checked by an eye doctor at certain stages of their development.

    According to the American Optometric Association (AOA) children should have their eyes examined by an eye doctor at 6 months, 3 years, at the start of school, and then at least every 2 years following. If there are any signs that there may be a vision problem or if the child has certain risk factors (such as developmental delays, premature birth, crossed or lazy eyes, family history or previous injuries) more frequent exams are recommended. A child that wears eyeglasses or contact lenses should have his or her eyes examined yearly. Children’s eyes can change rapidly as they grow.

    Eye Exams in Infants: Birth – 24 Months

    A baby’s visual system develops gradually over the first few months of life. They have to learn to focus and move their eyes, and use them together as a team. The brain also needs to learn how to process the visual information from the eyes to understand and interact with the world. With the development of eyesight, comes also the foundation for motor development such as crawling, walking and hand-eye coordination.

    You can ensure that your baby is reaching milestones by keeping an eye on what is happening with your infant’s development and by ensuring that you schedule a comprehensive infant eye exam at 6 months. At this exam, the eye doctor will check that the child is seeing properly and developing on track and look for conditions that could impair eye health or vision (such as strabismus(misalignment or crossing of the eyes), farsightedness, nearsightedness, or astigmatism).

    Since there is a higher risk of eye and vision problems if your infant was born premature or is showing signs of developmental delay, your eye doctor may require more frequent visits to keep watch on his or her progress.

    Eye Exams in Preschool Children: 2-5

    The toddler and preschool age is a period where children experience drastic growth in intellectual and motor skills. During this time they will develop the fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and perceptual abilities that will prepare them to read and write, play sports and participate in creative activities such as drawing, sculpting or building. This is all dependent upon good vision and visual processes.

    This is the age when parents should be on the lookout for signs of lazy eye (amblyopia) – when one eye doesn’t see clearly, or crossed eyes (strabismus) – when one or both eyes turns inward or outward. The earlier these conditions are treated, the higher the success rate.

    Parents should also be aware of any developmental delays having to do with object, number or letter recognition, color recognition or coordination, as the root of such problems can often be visual. If you notice your child squinting, rubbing his eyes frequently, sitting very close to the tv or reading material, or generally avoiding activities such as puzzles or coloring, it is worth a trip to the eye doctor.

    Eye Exams in School-Aged Children: Ages 6-18

    Undetected or uncorrected vision problems can cause children and teens to suffer academically, socially, athletically and personally. If your child is having trouble in school or afterschool activities there could be an underlying vision problem. Proper learning, motor development, reading, and many other skills are dependent upon not only good vision, but also the ability of your eyes to work together. Children that have problems with focusing, reading, teaming their eyes or hand-eye coordination will often experience frustration, and may exhibit behavioral problems as well. Often they don’t know that the vision they are experiencing is abnormal, so they aren’t able to express that they need help.

    In addition to the symptoms written above, signs of vision problems in older children include:

    • Short attention span
    • Headaches
    • Frequent blinking
    • Avoiding reading
    • Tilting the head to one side
    • Losing their place often while reading
    • Double vision
    • Poor reading comprehension

    The Eye Exam

    In addition to basic visual acuity (distance and near vision) an eye exam may assess the following visual skills that are required for learning and mobility:

    • Binocular vision: how the eyes work together as a team
    • Focusing
    • Peripheral Vision
    • Color Vision
    • Hand-eye Coordination
    • Tracking

    The doctor will also examine the area around the eye and inside the eye to check for any eye diseases or health conditions. You should tell the doctor any relevant personal history of your child such as a premature birth, developmental delays, family history of eye problems, eye injuries or medications the child is taking. This would also be the time to address any concerns or issues your child has that might indicate a vision problem.

    If the eye doctor does determine that your child has a vision problem, they may discuss a number of therapeutic options such as eyeglasses or contact lenses, an eye patch, vision therapy or Ortho-k, depending on the condition and the doctor’s specialty. Since some conditions are much easier to treat when they are caught early while the eyes are still developing, it is important to diagnose any eye and vision issues as early as possible.

    Following the guidelines for children’s eye exams and staying alert to any signs of vision problems can help your child to reach his or her potential.