Eyecare for children

Good vision is essential for a child’s early development. Optimum sight can contribute to a healthy start in life, and enable your child to perform to the best of his/her ability at school and beyond.

We recommend routine eye tests for all children, but in you should arrange one sooner rather than later if your child:

  • regularly screws his/her eyes up, sits too close to the TV, or holds reading material either too close or too far away .
  • is clumsy and bumps into things, or has problems with co-ordination (eg catching a ball).
  • complains of headaches.
  • starts to lose interest in visually demanding tasks such as reading, computer or watching TV.
  • is disruptive or has a short attention span.
  • is taking medication (some medications can have a negative impact on eyesight).

We have special testing techniques which do not rely on input from the child, so there is generally no minimum age for a child to have a sight test. Typically, anyone under 16 should be seen annually but we may suggest a more frequent interval depending on the child’s particular needs.

There are several things we need to look out for in children:

Long sightedness, lazy eyes and squints

Most children are born slightly hypermetropic (long sighted). In most cases this is due to the eye being too small to suit its optical system. Usually this will resolve itself as the child grows, but if the refractive error remains, and is not properly corrected, there is a risk of permanently poor vision due to two related conditions: strabismus (squint) and/or amblyopia (lazy eye).

If the child has a large uncorrected hypermetropic prescription, the lens inside the eye has to work harder to produce extra power. This process, however, is accompanied by convergence which (in a child) can become a squint.

If one eye has a significantly different refractive error from the other, or if a squint is present, this can lead to amblyopia (or lazy eye) if left uncorrected. The brain effectively ignores the weaker eye which consequently does not develop properly.

Amblyopia is best treated before the age of four but continued improvement can be made up to the age of seven. After this critical period, perfect vision cannot be achieved. Detecting the problem as early as possible is therefore absolutely vital.

Short sightedness

Myopia (short sightedness) is less common in children. This is caused by either the eye being too large for its optical system, or the front of the eye being too curved. It does not generally lead to a squint or lazy eye, but unaided vision will always be poor which will have an adverse affect on your child's performance at school.

Studies have suggested that large amounts of near vision activities can contribute to the development of myopia. Research has also shown that lack of natural daylight (and prolonged exposure to artificial light) can be a causative factor. Hence it has been suggested that children should restrict their recreational use of phones/laptops/tablets and engage in outdoor activities instead. While we can't say for sure that this will prevent the development of myopia, it will certainly bring other health & development benefits so this is probably advice worth following.

If your optometrist finds a refractive error or squint, spectacles will normally be prescribed. Normally we suggest that he/she wears them all the time. If the refractive error is hypermetropic (long sighted), wearing the glasses now may negate the need to wear them full-time in the future. If your child is myopic, the vision will not get better but wearing a correction will ensure he/she performs to the best of his/her ability at school.

Wearing glasses shouldn’t stop your child taking part in a whole range of sports. We have a variety of dispense options available, including polycarbonate and Trivex lenses. Both materials are more robust than regular plastic lenses. Plastic frames without adjustable nosepads can be a good choice for safety purposes, and there are specific frames designed for sport too.

Contact lenses can be an option for children, however there are a few factors to consider. Getting used to contact lenses can take a little while. Your child needs to be able to insert and remove the lenses by themselves, so motivation and perseverance are crucial. They also need a certain amount of discipline: it’s important not to wear the lenses for too long each day. There is also a routine to learn for keeping the lenses clean and hygienic. While disposable lenses reduce the risk of infections, it’s vital to wash your hands prior to handling lenses.

When deciding on whether to fit contact lenses, maturity and responsibility are therefore the key deciding factors which we will consider.

If your child is short-sighted (myopic) rather than long-sighted, he/she might be a good candidate for orthokeratology. Here, a contact lens is worn overnight to gently reshape the cornea in order to provide clear daytime vision. Not only does this eliminate the need for glasses or daytime contact lens wear, crucially there is evidence to suggest that it may slow or halt the progression of short-sightedness in children. Again, given the care regime required, reponsibility and maturity are necessary pre-requisites. Read more information about orthokeratology here