Strange as it may sound, it's never too early to have children's eyes examined. It's not always easy to detect whether a child has impaired vision or not. Parents generally notice if a child is having problems walking, before they notice any vision problems. Babies and young children are not able to detect or communicate their impairment. Even older children have a limited ability to differentiate sharp from fuzzy. Usually, parents only notice if a child's visual acuity is dramatically reduced by more than 60%. However, the earlier vision impairment is corrected among children and infants, the better and more successful correction will be. Remember that binocular vision can only fully develop when the image on the retinas of both eyes is equally sharp. Similar to learning to walk and speak, babies and young children learn how to see through constant practice. Only, it happens much earlier with vision, since the first time they open their eyes after birth when our little ones begin their visual experience.
Children should have their first eye test within the first ten days of life. Correcting vision problems early, when the eye is not yet fully formed, is more successful than later. In addition, certain visual impairments that cannot be corrected later can be minimised, or even wholly avoided, if detected and treated early.
Premature babies in particular have often visual impairments due to the reduced time spent developing in the mother's womb. So visual acuity should be checked while the baby is still in the incubator. For babies and young children, the exam is performed using an objective procedure called the skiascopic measurement of visual acuity, where the doctor places a drop of atropine derivative into the child's eye. This dilates the pupil and disables accommodation (accommodation is the eye's ability to adjust in order to make objects at different distances appear sharply on the retina), which allows the doctor to pinpoint any potential visual impairments. Spectacles or even contact lenses can be prescribed and adapted for premature babies, babies and young children. Special spectacle frames and lenses are now feasible for even the smallest faces; some are even custom-produced by opticians.
After the first examination, parents should have their children's vision examined regularly – ideally once per year. It's also recommended for parents to observe their children's eyes and their visual behaviour. The ophthalmologist should be consulted if changes occur, such as strabismus, frequent rubbing of the eyes, lack of eye contact, cataracts, blinking, or among school-age children, need to hold the paper too close when reading or writing and copying incorrectly from the board.
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