Keeping an Eye on Kids’ Eyes

A softball player looking over her shoulder preparing to hit the ballWe all heard it growing up: “You only have two eyes, so you need to take care of them.”

Just as eye exams are important for adults every one to two years (depending on personal risk factors and family history of eye disease), parents need to be vigilant about their children’s eye health, when it comes to screenings, recess, and sports.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites that less than 15 percent of pre-school kids get their eyes examined. Less than 22 percent get vision screening for serious risk factors (like “lazy eye,” or amblyopia) that could point to potential vision loss if not treated early. Every 13 minutes, someone in the U.S. goes to the emergency room for a sports-related eye injury, and eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children. From “black eyes” to corneal scratches, and more devastating injuries involving eyesight loss, the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says that more than 90 percent of all eye injuries can be prevented with the proper protective gear. There are also serious cautions about backyard and toy safety when it comes to eye injuries. That includes non-powder air guns, (like BB, pellet, and paintball). These air guns saw an almost 170 percent national rise in eye injuries over a 23-year period, according to a recent study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy (CIRP) of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Help your kids keep their eyes on the ball – safely:

  • Before or by age four: Have kids’ vision tested by a family physician, pediatrician, or specialist. Screen newborn to three months old and six months to one year old (especially with a family history of cataracts, eye disease, or misaligned eyes), then three years old, and five years old.
  • Catch “lazy eye,” or amblyopia early,* so it’s treatable (usually with an eye patch over the stronger eye for a time, to make the weaker eye work harder).
  • Watch for signs of myopia or nearsightedness (impaired ability to see well at a distance). Usually apparent between the ages of eight and 12 (and easily correctable with glasses or contacts), eyestrain, headaches while reading, plus challenges seeing the classroom board or the TV at home, are tell-tale signs.
  • Get into the game — only with ASTM**certified protective athletic gear and school eyewear policies. That includes UV-protective, impact-resistant, polycarbonate lenses and sport-specific helmets with full face protection.
  • Encourage safety: adult-only operation of machinery, adult-supervised activity, and age-appropriate, non-projectile toys certified by ASTM.
  • Use gel targets with backstops only for trapping BBs or pellets from air guns.

By Lisa Miceli Feliciano

Sources include: www.aao.org, www.cdc.gov, www.nationwidechildrens.org, www.nei.nih.gov

 *Poor vision in one eye doesn’t always mean a child has a lazy eye; sometimes corrective lenses can improve vision, so consult your child’s ophthalmologist.

**American Society for Testing and Materials

Related Reading