I have been very silent for the past couple of days, but we were away in Albuquerque for our annual visit to the pediatric ophthalmologist. During the long drive home, I was pondering my next post. Since most of my readers probably have children, I thought that children’s eyes might be a good subject for a post. My experience with my oldest daughter has taught me a lot that I did not know before…and that you may not know either.
When my oldest daughter (now 6) was 1, we took her to a pediatric ophthalmologist to have a congenitally blocked tear-duct surgically opened. During our initial visit, the doctor did a thorough eye exam, including a vision test. Many people (including me before this event) do not realize that it is possible to test the vision of an infant.
During the exam he discovered that not only was my daughter far-sighted, but her two eyes had a huge difference in the level of vision. This latter issue, as I learned, is a real problem that if left untreated, can actually cause blindness in the eye with the worse vision.
During childhood, if there is a big difference in the quality of vision between the two eyes, the brain will use only the good eye and will ignore information from the bad, or “lazy” one. This is known as amblyopia, or lazy-eye. Many people do not realize that a child does not have to exhibit an actual misalignment of the eyes in order to have “lazy eye.” My daughter had absolutely no physically obvious manifestation of any vision problem.
Common treatment consists of patching the good eye to force the “lazy” eye to be used, or prescribing glasses for the same purpose. My daughter is being treated with glasses, which she has had since age 1.
Apparently, 2 to 3 out of every 100 children are affected by this condition. What is scary to me is that routine, very early vision testing is still fairly unusual.
The earlier treatment occurs, the better. My understanding has always been that treatment must occur before age 7 or 8, otherwise it is too late. However, a study by the National Eye Institute (NEI) found that children up to age 17 can still derive some degree of benefit from treatment, although dramatic improvement seems to be less likely as age increases.
Of course, although I have had many “careers” in my lifetime, I am not a doctor! I am simply trying to pass along what I learned from this experience with my daughter – get your children’s eyes tested at as early an age as possible, even if everything seems fine!
Having learned about this issue with my oldest, I have had my two subsequent children tested early. My son first went to the pediatric ophthalmologist at age 1 (and was retested at 3, and again today at 5 to rule out any possible vision changes), and my second daughter had her first visit today (at age 18 months). Fortunately, the two younger children, so far, seem to have absolutely uniform, normal vision.
The little ones hate being tested, especially the eye drop part, but the whole process is quick and painless. The chance of detecting and preventing a potentially severe and irreversible vision problem seems well worth suffering through a few moments of uncooperative behavior! I also recommend seeing a pediatric ophthalmologist if possible, since they are used to dealing with unwilling patients and are perhaps more familiar with the vision issues of childhood.
Resources and information:
Thanks to the National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health for the anatomical diagram of the eye.