Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Hidden from sight


Your child may have an eye condition and not even know it
Milestones in a child’s life are often accompanied by a trip to a health professional.
Immunisations require a visit to the doctor, new teeth trigger a trip to the dentist and as they get older various tests are undertaken to make sure our children are developing normally.
It is obvious when a child needs extra support, such as speech therapy or if they have hearing loss or a physical impairment.
But what about a child’s sight?
As far as I recall, my daughter’s sight was tested when she got her four-year-old immunisations but it is was simply looking at a wall chart and recognising animal pictures.
Fast forward 18 months to last week when I happened to go to an optometrist for a routine eye examination.
I had always assumed that if there was a problem with my daughter’s eye sight, she would be able to tell me, and so far she has never complained about her eyes, or showed other symptoms such as headaches or squinting.
So perhaps it was instinct, or just pure luck, that I decided to book her in for a check-up, believing that the optometrist would say her eyes are fine.
Instead, she was diagnosed with astigmatism in both eyes.
Astigmatism is a structural problem of the eye, and it is fairly common.
The cornea of the eye is normally a spherical shape, but if you have astigmatism, it is curved into an oval shape.
The cornea needs to be a perfect curve in order to bend (refract) light properly.
Astigmatism causes light to bounce unevenly off the flat and steep curves of the oval shape, and hit more than one focal point in the eye.
This impairs the ability to focus, and causes blurred vision.
Symptoms of astigmatism are blurred or distorted vision at all distances, sensitivity to light, headaches, excessive squinting and eye strain.
Most people with astigmatism are born with it, but the awareness of it increases with age. This means that children with astigmatism are unaware that what they are seeing is not normal.
Reading and concentrating at school may be affected if a child has undiagnosed astigmatism, but the long term problems are even greater.
Left untreated, a child with astigmatism may develop amblyopia, or “lazy eye”, in which one eye drifts inward or outward and may stop seeing.
Amblyopia occurs because the brain “turns off” the eye, not because the eye lacks the ability to see.
If amblyopia occurs due to astigmatism, irreversible functional blindness may occur if it isn’t corrected.
If the eyes do not work together properly, depth perception is also affected.
Astigmatism can be treated by wearing prescribed glasses or contact lenses, and if detected early in childhood, it can be corrected.
My experience has taught me that children really should have regular eye tests with an optometrist (don’t just rely on reading an eye chart on a wall).
In the UK, it is recommended that babies have an eye test soon after they are born, again at six weeks, a comprehensive test at the age of four, and then every year after up to the age of 16. Adults should have a test every two years.
We should also be following this standard because good eye sight is so important.
Thankfully my daughter is excited about wearing her new pink glasses, though I’m sure the novelty will wear off. I’m just so thankful that we can help her now.


* You can read more about my daughter's new spectacles on my other blog!

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