School summer holidays are almost upon us, so it’s the perfect time to start thinking about preparing children for their next school year – but have you thought about making sure their sight is up to scratch?
Parents are often surprised to learn that schools no longer have to check children’s eyesight so it’s important they see an Optician. Here, our FAQs explain why, and deal with a few other myths surrounding children’s vision!
Q – My child seems to see perfectly well, why do they need to see an Optician?
There can be hidden problems with their vision, like a lazy eye (where one eye has far weaker vision than the other). Children have no idea what their sight ‘should’ be like: they have nothing to compare it to so often don’t know anything’s wrong. The earlier any problem is found and treated, the better chance we have of helping the child to see normally. As our eyes are almost fully developed by the age of 8, leaving it too long to get them tested can sadly mean they are left with permanently weaker vision.
Q – But surely their vision is checked at school?
No, there is no national requirement for vision screening in schools so the days of being able to rely on them having a school check are long gone! Even if they do have a test in school it is generally a vision screening test rather than a full test of sight and eye health. Children can do very well on a screening test but still have problems with their sight: if they are long-sighted they may well be able to read the smallest letters far away, but would struggle with closer work such as reading and writing.
Q – Are vision problems really all that common?
Surprisingly common! Research has shown that 1 in 5 children of school age has an undetected problem with their vision (source: The Eyecare Trust).
Q – What does it cost to get them tested?
Usually just 20 minutes of your time! Children’s eye examinations are free on the NHS under the age of 16, or until their 19th birthday if they’re still in full-time education. If they need glasses the NHS also covers much of the cost.
Q – They can’t have an eye test until they can read though, can they?
Parents are often surprised to learn that we can test eyes without using letter charts & difficult questions. We have many ways to get meaningful results, such as using pictures and matching games. The eye test can be tailored to suit the child – and to be an enjoyable experience!
Q – So when should they have their first eye examination?
We would recommend a first test by about the age of 3, just before they start needing their eyes for concentrated learning. If you have any concerns at all though it really is never too soon!
Q – What sort of things should I bring them in for before they’re 3?
We are always happy to check them if you have any concerns, but be on the lookout for the following:
an eye that seems to turn and not line up with their other eye is unusual after about 6 months of age
a white pupil should be checked out immediately as it can indicate a rare form of tumour in children (Retinoblastoma): often this is first noticed in photographs
if there is a strong family history of very long-sight, or lazy eyes/squint it is sensible to see them a little sooner than usual
Q – I don’t like the idea of my child having to wear glasses, it’s a big social stigma isn’t it?
We quite often find the reverse: kids nowadays really want glasses! They’re so much of a fashion accessory and as kids are familiar with characters like Harry Potter, they’ve never been more popular! There’s a fantastic range of children’s frames nowadays and the cost is highly susbidised by the NHS. And if they really don’t want to wear them when they get to that self-conscious stage, contact lenses are often an option!
Q – I’ve been told my child is short-sighted: what does that mean?
Short-sight means their eyes are focussed at a close range, and they will have trouble seeing more distant things like the board at school and the TV. We tend to get more short-sighted as our eyes grow so it often appears at around the age of 10 or 11, but can occur much sooner.
Q – So long-sighted would mean they can see really far away?
Exactly. Long-sight will often cause problems with close work as the eye muscles have to strain to compensate for it; this can mean they find it difficult to learn to read and write as concentrating may be very difficult.
Q – How often should they be having their eyes checked?
We usually recommend a yearly test for children under 8, as their eyes are still developing and can change very quickly. The Optician may recommend a more or less frequent test depending on the child’s sight and family history. Everyone over 8 should see an Optician every 2 years to make sure their eyes are healthy. It’s a valuable general health check too!
Q – What if I think my child might be dyslexic?
Optometrists can’t diagnose dyslexia but we can do special tests for dyslexics to diagnose visual stress – around 40% of dyslexics could benefit from fine-tuning slight muscle imbalances, or using coloured filters to help them read. We’re about to introduce assessments here – if you’d like to know more click here!
Q – How do I register them with the Optician?