Baby Blues – How to Care for Your Child's Eyes
By Nancy Scott & Dr. Brayton Kidd
You have surely noticed how your baby’s vision skills have improved since the day you brought him home from the hospital. Beginning to reach for toys, following moving objects and your voice from across the room are not just random baby actions, but rather small steps towards developing good eye-hand coordination and depth perception.
From birth until the age of five, your child will continue practicing his vision and it is during this time that your little bundle of joy will learn lifelong vision skills. And you play a crucial role in determining whether these skills will be accurate or inaccurate. So what can you do as a parent to aid in your child’s healthy vision development? To answer this and other questions, HealthPod Baby has teamed up with Dr. Brayton Kidd, a Calgary-based optometrist.
Dr. Kidd notes that a striking percentage of children begin school without a comprehensive eye exam, yet vision problems have been identified as one of the major factors in limiting a child’s ability to learn and succeed. It is estimated that 1 out of every 4 children begin Grade One with an uncorrected or undiagnosed eye health or vision problem. Nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism are the most common vision conditions among young children. Many times, even though these correctable vision conditions are present, there are no signs or symptoms to alert parents that there is a problem. A complete vision examination is crucial to detecting these conditions as well as screen for other visual skill performance problems, including: poor coordination of the eyes, turned eye, eye-movement defects, below-age level eye-hand coordination and focusing difficulties.
Taking your child to an optometrist regularly will allow proper monitoring of your baby’s vision development. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that children have their first eye exam at 6 months of age. Don’t worry; your baby does not need to study for this first test and they won’t have to read the eye chart! The first examination tends to be very basic in order to get a baseline to compare to at subsequent visits. Specialized instruments similar to flashlights allow a very accurate assessment of vision and aid in the evaluation of the health of both the front and back of the eye at any age. The examination will also assess eye movements and eye muscle control. The optometrist will usually perform this test with the help of your child’s favourite stuffed animal and assess movement as the child follows the toy at different speeds and in different directions.
For a successful first visit Dr. Kidd recommends you:
- keep a very positive attitude;
- schedule the appointment for a time when the baby is generally relaxed and happy;
- fill out all required paperwork prior to the appointment; and
- give yourself two thumbs up for taking the first step to ensuring your child’s vision development.
Subsequent visits should take place at the ages of three and five and will allow the optometrist to monitor for changes and ensure stability and overall eye health is maintained. An optometrist may choose to see a child more often if there are concerns or if there is a need to monitor a prescription or health concern more closely.
As children become older tests for depth perception and color vision will be used. Future visits should include retinal pictures as they provide a permanent record of eye health and help detect changes and health problems. Having retinal pictures allows an optometrist to compare the health of the eye from one year to the next and ensure stability and proper vision development.
Although having a trusted optometrist monitor your child’s development is vital, remember that you are the primary guardian of your child’s vision. It is important to be aware of any visual problems that run in the family, or unusual symptoms that may appear in your child. Many problems that affect kids at a young age have a hereditary component that can be found somewhere within the family tree.
Another key element that is often overlooked is to ensure good sun protection for the kids at any age. Dr. Kidd recommends 100% UV protection to prevent the harmful rays from entering the eye tissues. Once kids see mom and dad wearing sunglasses regularly, they will be more inclined to wear them as well. The younger kids are exposed to sun glasses the more likely they will wear them full time in the future. If kids are unable to wear sun glasses, especially at a young age, limiting direct sun exposure and the use of large brimmed hats is the most effective way of decreasing UV exposure.
Your child deserves the opportunity to develop all the vision skills they will need to fully enjoy the wonders of childhood and carry on to their adulthood. Taking your baby for regular checkups will allow you to marvel at your child’s discoveries right before your very eyes.
Dr Brayton Kidd was born and raised in Calgary. He completed a Bachelor of Science at the University of Calgary and graduated with distinction from The Southern California College of Optometry in 2007. He is currently practicing at Lifetime Vision Care in Calgary.