5 serious eye conditions in children

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Much like children need to learn to walk and talk, they need to develop their visual acuity before they can make sense of their surroundings. According to a 2014 WHO study, approximately 19 million children worldwide have vision problems of which almost 12 million could have had their eye conditions corrected if they had received regular eye examinations.

By the time a parent usually notices their child has a visual problem, the child’s visual acuity has reduced by more than 60%. “The earlier an eye condition is detected by an optometrist, the sooner it can be treated,” says Inge Loubser, an optometrist of Mellins i-Style.

What could happen if you delay an eye examination?

According to Inge, healthy eyes and vision are a critical part of our children’s development. Their eyes must be checked regularly as many vision problems and eye diseases can be diagnosed early and treated in time. Without regular eye examinations, it can be difficult to determine if a child’s vision is developing normally and if they have the necessary visual skills to perform well at school.

“Without regular eye examinations, it can be difficult to determine if a child’s vision is developing normally and if they have the necessary visual skills to perform well at school.”

“Vision is directly related to academic development and children with underlying visual problems often struggle with their school work. Children will possibly not complain of any sight problems because they do not know what it is to have 20/20 or perfect vision. An eye examination by an optometrist is therefore recommended to eliminate an underlying visual problem, especially if your child is performing poorly at school,” she says. 

What serious eye conditions in children should you be aware of?

The following five conditions are only a few of the eye problems for which children may require treatment. It is therefore always a good idea to consult your optometrist if you notice any eye problems in your child.

  1. Amblyopia (a lazy eye): Can develop where the brain and eyes do not work well together. This causes a decrease in vision in an eye that otherwise appears “normal”. This is caused by any condition that interferes with your focus during your early childhood, e.g. eyes that are not “aligned” or that have a very high refractive status (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism). It can be difficult to recognise that your child has amblyopia and therefore a visual examination is recommended for all children before the age of four or five.
  2. Farsightedness (hyperopia): The child easily recognises faraway objects, but finds it challenging to focus on things up close and therefore may experience headaches, red eyes, inability to concentrate, restlessness and tires easily when reading or writing. The condition can, however, improve as children grow up.
  3. Near-sightedness (myopia): Due to the changing shape of the eye, the child is unable to focus on distant objects. Near-sighted children are more engaged with things up close and often squint or blink as they try to focus on objects in the distance.
  4. Astigmatism (irregular curvature of the cornea – the outside, dome-shaped surface of the eye): Depending on the severity of the irregular shape of the cornea, objects may appear blurred, distorted and slanted.
  5. Conjunctivitis (pink eye): Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the white outer surface of the eye and inner lining of the eyelids. Usually caused by a bacterial and contagious infection or an allergic reaction, the eye appears red or pink, are itchy and irritated, and a discharge may appear in both eyes.

For more eye care tips and advice visit www.mellins.co.za

Also read: 

7 important signs your toddler needs an eye exam
Where to go if you suspect your child has a vision problem