According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, most children have healthy, normal eyes, however, some are born with serious eye diseases or disorders that are not obvious. Dr. Charles Kirby, M.D., an ophthalmologist at the Chattanooga Eye Institute notes, “Pediatricians do newborn screening examinations of the eyes right after birth. If there is any problem it can be evaluated and treated, thanks to early detection by an ophthalmologist.” He goes on to say that the most common, serious problem in newborns is a congenital cataract that can be removed surgically. Not as common, but equally serious is congenital glaucoma, which is also treatable, particularly if caught early.
By Priscilla N. Shartle
After the newborn screening, the best time to have your child’s eyes examined is at age 3 and again at 5 years old. If there are issues like near or farsightedness, then annual visits are suggested. If there are no concerns, parents should use their judgment and watch for any signs or symptoms that their child is experiencing vision problems.
Dr. Robert McGarvey, an optometrist at Kapperman and White Eye Care works primarily with pediatric patients. “A good rule of thumb,” McGarvey says, “is if a child is hurting from growing pains, then parents should get his or her eyes checked, because the eyes are growing as well.” He also says that the most important thing parents can do to protect their child’s vision is to remember, “A healthy body is good for the eyes and that means a diet of healthy nutritious food.”
According to the Institute for Vision Development, “When visual conditions, such as poor eye tracking or eye teaming, cannot be treated adequately with glasses, contact lenses and/or patching, they may be best resolved through a program of Vision Therapy.” Dr. Heather M. McBryar, O.D., is a Developmental Optometrist at the Institute for Vision Development in Hixson. Her office maintains a relationship with other optometrists who screen patients and refer them to the Institute for eye therapy. According to McBryar, 20 percent of the population has vision problems, many of which benefit from eye therapy.
Some common symptoms associated with learning-related vision problems are slow or poor reading, poor reading comprehension, reversing letters or words and difficulty copying from the board.
Parents can find a check list of symptoms that indicate a child might be having vision related problems at InstituteForVision. com. It is extremely important to be mindful of these issues and to have them checked early, as they can interfere with academic performance.
Some eye disorders occuring in children that are very serious, include a white pupil (leukocoria), a swelling or drooping of the eye lid (ptosis) or a large cornea. All are symptoms of what could be a serious problem and put a child at risk. Urgent care should be sought for these symptoms.
Less serious but important signs of eye problems are excessive tearing, redness in the eye and infection in the tear ducts. Other symptoms of possible vision problems that require a doctor’s attention, are eyes that are misaligned or turning in or out, called a “lazy eye” (strahismus); eyes that jiggle or rotate, which is called “dancing eyes” (nystagmus); a baby that does not look at you; a child who tilts their head to read; part of the iris is missing and finally, if a child’s pupils are unequal.
If a parent notices any of these symptoms, it is important to seek the appropriate doctor. At this stage it is important for parents to understand the differences among eye care providers. Ophthalmologists are medical doctors (M.D.) or doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.), who specialize in eye health. They perform surgeries, and diagnose and treat eye diseases and systemic diseases that impact a person’s vision. Optometrists are doctors of optometry, or O.D. They provide eye exams to diagnose eye problems like nearsightedness and farsightedness and check, among other things, for eye diseases, such as glaucoma. They also examine the eye for problems caused by other diseases, like diabetes. They prescribe contacts, glasses or medications and can diagnose eye diseases that require surgery but do not perform surgical procedures. An optician fits eyeglasses and contact lenses, following prescriptions written by the optometrist or ophthalmologist. Pediatric ophthalmologists and pediatric optometrists are primarily concerned with eye care of children.
Locally, there are several resources for parents to have their child’s vision checked. The American Optometric Association in partnership with the Vision Care Institute of Johnson and Johnson Vision Care provide the resource, InfantSEE, a public health program for infants. Optometrists who participate in this program give free in-depth screenings to babies up to 12 months old. According to McGarvey, who performs these screenings, they are fairly comprehensive exams. To learn more go to: InfantSEE.org.
The Hamilton County Health Department’s Early Periodic Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment program is free or discounted depending on eligibility and also offers vision screenings. For more information visit: Health.HamiltonTN.org
One of the most precious gifts that a child has is their eyesight. Through early detection and prevention, parents can help preserve and nurture a child’s vision. Many learning disabilities and challenges that children might face can be avoided through simple screenings and eye care.
Priscilla Shartle has lived in Chattanooga for nearly 14 years. She attended Louisiana State University and is the current president of the Chattanooga Writers Guild. She has four children and three grandchildren. She and her husband live on Signal Mountain.