Does your child need spectacles?
A 2003 study concluded that 3% of children up to the age of 13 suffer from some sort of eyesight limitation, increasing threefold by their mid-teens. Could your child be one of them?
‘The need for spectacles in children definitely increases during puberty,’ says Kendridge-based optometrist Johannes van der Meer. ‘Refractive error is by far the most prevalent form of eyesight limitation among children.’
Johannes lists hypermetropia and myopia as the two main categories in juvenile refractive errors. Hypermetropia, or farsightedness, is due to a shorter than normal eyeball, which results in improper focusing of the retina. Myopia, or nearsightedness, is caused by a longer eyeball, and excessive squinting is common as the person tries to get clearer vision.
‘Hypermetropia is fairly common in young children,’ says Johannes, ‘but this tends to decrease as the child gets older. Even a moderate deviation is generally no reason for concern, especially in the absence of any visual symptoms.’
He says these warning signs may indicate the need for an optometric intervention:
- Headaches or eyestrain
- Dislike or avoidance of reading
- Short attention span during visual tasks
- Turning or tilting the head, or closing/covering one eye
- Placing the head very close to the book or desk when reading or writing
- Excessive blinking or rubbing of the eyes
- Excessive eye redness and tearing
- Losing place when reading, or using a finger as a guide
- Omitting or repeating words when reading aloud
- Persistent reversal of words or letters
- Poor hand-eye coordination
While parents’ awareness is no doubt foremost, a child’s school day is perhaps the most important area for identifying problems. ‘Since teachers spend most of the day with the child, they are in an important position to identify visual problems,’ says Johannes.
‘Visual screening for learners from Grade 1 is offered by some optometry practices,’ he adds, saying a visit to the optometrist should be in the company of a parent and should not be feared by the child. ‘We try to make the consultation as fun as possible,’ he says. ‘It’s also important to note that a visual examination is not only to determine the need for spectacles. Other skills – for example eye coordination and tracking – are also important. A proper visual analysis should include various age-appropriate tests to investigate such skills. Extra tests are added depending on age.’
Considering adolescent development and the frequently accompanying eyesight changes, is it possible that a child can outgrow the need for spectacles?
‘There are instances when a child can discontinue wearing spectacles,’ Johannes confirms. ‘Once a child needs spectacles, it’s best to stick to annual check-ups with your optometrist to determine if and when changes need to be made.’