Their eyesight may be blurry to begin with, but babies can see from birth and their vision continues to develop throughout early childhood until about the age of seven. That’s why it’s important for parents to get eye problems checked out early on, otherwise your child’s sight could be affected permanently.
A squint is a common eye condition which needs treatment. Affecting around one in every 50 children, a squint is when the eyes point in different directions.
Miss Gillian Adams, Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist at The Portland Hospital, says some children squint in the first few months after birth, but more commonly it occurs between 18 months and three and a half years.
‘If not addressed promptly, children can develop a lazy eye which will stay poorly sighted throughout life unless treated,’ says Miss Adams. ‘Sight is very important to a child - eighty per cent of a child’s education is visual.’
Glasses are one of the most common treatments for squints because they can correct the vision problems causing the squint in the first place, such as long or short sight. Surgery is only needed if other treatments don’t work. An eye test will detect any vision issues your child may be suffering from, and children are never too young to have their eyes checked. Their first eye checks should be carried out by the health visitor or paediatrician soon after birth. These checks include the ‘red reflex test,’ so-called because a light is shone into a baby’s eyes and a red reflection should be seen as the light is reflected back. If the reflection is white, then it could be a sign of cataracts - a clouding of the eye lens - and your child will be referred to a specialist.
Your child should also get a vision test between the ages of four and five and this will detect conditions such as ‘lazy eye’ where one eye is weaker than the other. Again, early treatment with eye drops or wearing a patch over one eye is effective.
Any parent who thinks their child may have a problem should always ask the health visitor for advice or take their child to the optician or doctor because children won’t tell you if their sight is bad, says Miss Jane Leitch, also a Consultant Paediatric Ophthalmologist at the hospital.
‘The reason is they have nothing to compare it (their eyesight) with – they have no terms of reference,’ explains Miss Leitch. ‘There are tell-tale signs such as sitting too close to the television, an inability to recognise siblings and a short attention span. If this is a first child, then mum might not have noticed “If not addressed promptly, children can develop a lazy eye which will stay poorly sighted throughout life unless treated ”
By Sophie Goodchild