When it comes to healthcare for our kids it’s easy to become overwhelmed, writes optometrist Chantelle Brits. This article fact-checks five common myths about babies and visioncare.
- Babies don’t need their eyes checked
Untrue. A paediatrician will check for visual health problems such as cataracts or squints, but will not be able to assess whether the baby has a refractive error (eyesight problem).
Refractive errors are often inherited, and studies show that where both parents have vision problems there is up to a 60% chance that the child will develop a visual difficulty as well.
It is recommended that children have their first eye exam between the ages of six and 12 months.
- It is not possible to test a baby’s eyes as they need to be able to respond verbally
Untrue. With babies and young children who are not yet verbal, the optometrist will rely on objective testing methods. Fortunately, with advances in technology, paediatric visual screening equipment has become available, making it possible for a wealth of information to be gleaned from a baby’s visual exam without the little one having to participate verbally.
- If my child has an eye problem I would have noticed
Untrue. While some visual problems, such as squints, are immediately obvious to parents and caregivers, many are not, and children mostly do not complain of having visual difficulties.
They may develop compensatory mechanisms such as only using one eye if there is a big difference in acuity (how well the eye sees) between the two eyes. Many times visual problems are only discovered once the child reaches school-going age and academic difficulties start to manifest.
The sooner vision problems are detected, the better the prognosis, and the less likely it is for learning to be affected.
- Babies cannot wear contact lenses
Untrue. In some cases (high refractive errors at birth, after cataract surgery or when strabismus is present) it is necessary for a young infant to wear a form of visual correction. Some babies do not tolerate spectacle-wear well, and this can be managed by means of custom-made, soft, extended wear lenses. These lenses are specifically designed for paediatric use, are highly breathable and the infant is closely monitored by their optometrist and ophthalmologist to ensure that their eyes remain healthy.
- Wearing spectacles from a young age will cause my child’s eyes to get weaker
Untrue. In fact, the converse is true! The critical age for vision development is birth to three years. Where vision problems remain unaddressed beyond the critical period, a condition by the name of amblyopia (“lazy eye”) may set in.
Amblyopia refers to dimness of vision not corrected with spectacles or contact lenses, and is caused by the brain effectively “ignoring” the weaker eye. Though amblyopia can be treated with vision therapy, the older the child is when commencing treatment, the longer and more difficult the process becomes. Children are less likely to become amblyopic if their refractive errors are corrected earlier in life.