Children's Vision Month

We’re glad you asked!  


Below are some answers to common questions regarding children’s vision.  Be sure to speak to your doctor of optometry if you have questions we have not answered for you here.

CHILDREN’S VISION QUESTIONS


How does a comprehensive eye exam help maintain a child’s overall health?
Vision problems affect learning and development and can prevent children from reaching their full potential. One in four school-age children has a vision problem , and the majority of problems have no easy-to-detect symptoms – making it very difficult for parents to know if their child is impacted without taking them to see an optometrist for a comprehensive eye exam.

How can an optometrist detect retinoblastoma in children?
Retinoblastoma is the most common type of eye cancer in children, accounting for approximately three per cent of all cancers that occur in children younger than 15 years of age.   When the eyes are developing, they have cells called retinoblasts. These cells divide into new cells and fill the part of the eye that will become the retina. When the cells mutate and/or grow out of control, we call this retinoblastoma. By looking at the retina, an eye exam can reveal early indicators.

How does diabetes impact children’s eyes?
Diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases among children and youth in Canada. Diabetes can damage the small blood vessels in a child’s retina, the light sensitive tissue inside the eye. Optometrists have the potential to see indicators of diabetes in the eyes and after five to six years of becoming diabetic, may see signs of mild diabetic retinopathy in children. Early detection is key for monitoring and treatment of the condition, and to reduce the risk of vision loss later in life.  

How can vision problems affect a child’s learning and overall development?
Eighty per cent of a child’s learning is based on vision. Undetected and untreated vision problems can elicit some of the very same signs and symptoms that are commonly attributed to other development issues, such as ADHD, dyslexia, and speech problems.

What is myopia and how does it affect children’s vision?
Myopia, more commonly known as nearsightedness, is a visual condition in which near objects are seen clearly, but distant objects do not come into proper focus. It’s a condition that is becoming more prevalent as children spend less time outside and more time on their digital devices. Children with myopia will often have trouble seeing the whiteboard, the movie screen, the television set or other distant objects and will require eyeglasses.

What is strabismus and how does it affect children’s vision?
Strabismus is a condition where a child’s eyes are not properly aligned with each other. Often beginning in early childhood (between birth and 21 months), the condition can progress and without treatment may cause permanent vision problems such as amblyopia.

What is amblyopia and how does it affect children’s vision?
Amblyopia, more commonly known as lazy eye, occurs when vision in one eye is reduced because the eye and brain are not working together properly. The result is a decrease in fine vision or visual acuity (sharpness). Depending on each child’s condition, treatment may include eye glasses, patching, eye drops, or in serious cases, surgery.

TYPES AND FREQUENCY OF EYE EXAMS


How often should I take my children for an eye exam?

Infants
Doctors of optometry recommend that babies have their first exam between six and nine months. This is covered by Alberta Health. They will check to ensure:
  • their eyes are healthy;
  • eye and muscle movements and alignment are developing properly; and
  • the eyes are focusing together.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
Doctors of Optometry recommend children have at least one eye exam between the ages of two and five. This is covered by Alberta Health. They will check to ensure:
  • visual development is continuing normally; and
  • their depth perception, eye-hand coordination and visualization skills are appropriate for their age.
Kindergarten
Once your child reaches kindergarten they should have an annual eye exam, and it is an opportunity to ensure your child is ready for school.  This is covered by Alberta Health.
If your child is in kindergarten, has an eye exam, and it is determined that they require eye glasses, the Alberta Association of Optometrists’ Eye
See . . . Eye Learn program will provide a pair of glasses free of charge. To learn more about this program, visit www.optometrists.ab.ca/esel.

School Years
Once in school, it is recommended your child have an annual eye exam, as vision can change quickly. This is covered by Alberta Health until their 19th birthday.

Is a comprehensive eye exam the same as a sight test?
Sight tests or vision screening tests that are often administered to children at school, are a limited procedure and cannot be used to diagnose an eye or vision problem. Studies show that vision screening has high error rates. In fact, 43 per cent of children with vision problems are able to pass a vision screening test.  

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS YOUR CHILD MAY HAVE A VISUAL PROBLEM


Be alert for signs and symptoms that could indicate your child has a visual problem, including:
  • red, itchy or watering eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • an eye that turns in or out
  • squinting, rubbing the eyes, or excessive blinking
  • a lack of concentration
  • covering or closing one eye
  • holding objects very close to the face
  • avoiding books and television
  • visible frustration or grimacing
  • tilting the head or unusual posture

THE ROLE OF OPTOMETRISTS


What do optometrists do?
As doctors of optometry, our key priority is the protection of our patients’ vision and eye health.  
We are trained to diagnose, treat and provide preventive vision and eye health care, which is an important aspect of overall health. We may also detect signs in the eyes or the visual system that indicate serious disease elsewhere in the body.

Can anyone see a doctor of optometry?
You do not need a referral to see a doctor of optometry. Optometrists help diagnose, treat and help prevent diseases and disorders affecting the visual system, the eye and its related structures. Patients requiring follow up care with a family physician or a specialist, such as an ophthalmologist, can be referred by a doctor of optometry.

How do optometrists work with other healthcare professionals?

Optometrists work closely with other primary health care providers, helping to improve patient outcomes and quality of life through early detection of eye disease and other potentially serious health conditions.

What education does a doctor of optometry have?

A doctor of optometry has 7-8 years of post-secondary education, including a Bachelor of Science degree or higher, followed by a four year Doctor of Optometry degree from a university’s accredited school of optometry.