Short stuff: Health roundupKeeping a close eye on your children’s eyes may help prevent serious eye problems.
While there are differing opinions on whether all children need eye exams, experts say vision loss or the significant effects of serious eye disease can be avoided with proper care and regular vigilance.
"School vision screenings are very good at catching things," says Dr. Susan Ksiazek, an assistant professor of opthamology and the residency program director at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. "But there are some things that are better if they’re caught before first grade."
Vision loss or other eye problems can occur as a result of a variety of factors. Genetics can contribute, but so can other elements.
"Many of these conditions can run in families, so parents who know their own histories can know what to look for," says Ksiazek, adding that a family history of vision problems or eye disease is enough of a reason to schedule an early eye exam. She says 3 is a good "magic number" age to schedule a preliminary eye exam.
Some of the most common vision problems include lazy eye (ambliopia), discoloration of the pupil, congenital glaucoma and trauma.
Ksiazek says parents can watch for some important signals for problems.
"Sitting close to the TV may be normal, but as a parent, you should have your child examined [if he or she is regularly sitting very close to, or squinting at, the screen] because there may be a need for glasses," she says.
With lazy eye, the earlier it’s caught, the better.
"It may be hard for a parent to notice lazy eye," Ksiazek says, "but you may notice the eyes cross or drift outward."
Lazy eye can often be treated with glasses. In fact, the need for glasses, or the need to straighten the eyes if crossing is left uncorrected, could lead to lazy eye.
If you notice that your child’s pupil is white where it should be black, schedule an exam.
"This can be an early sign of possible tumors or congenital cataracts, which would need to be removed," explains Ksiazek, who notes this can possibly cause lazy eye.
If your child’s eyes seem to be tearing more than normal, this can also be something to report.
"In infants, tearing signals a lack of a normal drainage system for tears," Ksiazek says. "But tearing can also be a sign of congenital glaucoma, which needs to be seen quite quickly."
Enlargement of one eye and a noticeable discrepancy in eye size also should be examined.
"It doesn’t take a doctor to be a good observer," Ksiazek says. "Parents are almost always right when they notice something in their kids."
Maayan S. Heller is a freelance writer living in Chicago who covers issues in health, women’s health and fitness.
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