Children’s eyes continue to develop postnatally rapidly until the age of 2-3 years old. Thereafter, development continues more slowly until the age of 7-8 years old. The important thing is to catch any problems early on before the development is complete in order to avoid the development of amblyopia (a lazy eye). Amblyopia occurs when the developing retina is not stimulated due to the image not reaching it or due to ocular misalignment. If amblyopia is present it can be managed with spectacles and / or patching of the good eye. For the treatment, the rule is the earlier the better.
Why is amblyopia management important?
If you have permanent amblyopia, you do not see properly out of one eye. The severity of visual impairment can vary. Although you can see well enough out of one eye to get by, it is always best to have two fully functioning eyes.
Even with mild amblyopia you may not have a good sense of depth when looking at objects (you cannot see properly in three dimensions). You cannot do some jobs if you have good vision in only one eye. If you only have good vision in one eye, you risk severe sight problems if you have an injury or disease of the good eye later in life.
Even if your child exhibits no symptoms of a visual problem, he/she should have an eye exam by the age of 3-4 years of age.
During preschool and the school years, your child’s visual system is developing along with the rest of their body, so annual spectacle prescription changes are common. Even if the vision is perfect, 2 yearly eye examinations are recommended as astigmatism and myopia can develop as your child grows.
UNDERSTANDING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VISION SCREENING AND EYE EXAMINATIONS
It is important to know that a vision screening by a child’s health visitor or in primary 1 is not the same as a comprehensive eye and vision examination by an Optometrist. Vision screenings are a limited process and can’t be used to diagnose an eye or vision problem, but rather may indicate a potential need for further evaluation. They may miss many children with vision problems. Even if a vision screening does not identify a possible vision problem, a child may still have one.
Passing a vision screening can give parents a false sense of security. Many preschool vision screenings only assess one or two areas of vision. They may not evaluate how well the child can focus his or her eyes or how well the eyes work together. Generally colour vision, which is important to the use of colour coded learning materials, is not tested.
Remember, a school vision or paediatrician’s screening is not a substitute for a thorough eye examination.
School age children
The relationship between good vision and learning cannot be over-estimated. If visual problems are left uncorrected they can contribute to problems at school.
All children should have their eyes examined by the age of five and have regular checkups, usually every two years.