Does your child or infant need glasses?
Children are visual learners – up to 80% of learning relies on vision – so it’s crucial to deal with eye problems promptly. In some cases, early treatment can limit or prevent long-term problems and reduce the need for further treatment. If your child or infant has focus problems, amblyopia (lazy eye), eye muscle issues or another condition that impacts vision, they may need glasses.
Signs and symptoms
Signs of visual issues can be difficult to identify, particularly in babies and younger children.
Signs may include:
- One eye wandering
- Poor depth perception
- Shutting one eye when reading
- Poor concentration
- Abnormal results in vision tests
Eye conditions that may require glasses:
Myopia (near sightedness)
Children with myopia have a focus point in front of the retina, causing blurred or unfocused distance vision.
Light rays entering the eye focus behind the retina. The eye has to exert extra focusing power to see clearly at a distance and even more so up close. If the hyperopia is significant, then the eye may not be able to focus the near image clearly. Many young children have mild hyperopia, which usually resolves naturally as they grow.
Light rays entering the eye focus on different places. Astigmatism is caused by an irregular eye surface or mismatched lens curves inside the eye. The imperfection causes blurred vision for distance and near sight but is usually treatable.
Each eye has a different focus, making it difficult for the eyes to work together. In some cases, the eye with poorer vision can become ‘lazy’ as the other eye compensates. Glasses are prescribed to treat this condition and even out the differences in focus.
The focusing muscle and the muscles drawing the eyes together are linked when looking at a close object. Some children with hyperopia need to exert so much focusing power that their eyes turn in. This condition, known as refractive esotropia, can be fully correctable with glasses.
Also known as lazy eye, amblyopia is the leading cause of vision issues among children – usually developing between birth and age seven. When one eye has reduced vision, it wanders inward or outward.
How are young children tested for glasses?
A retinoscope shines a light into the eye, helping the ophthalmologist identify characteristics that signify hyperopia, myopia or astigmatism. Then, lenses of varying strengths are placed in front of the eye until the refractive (focusing) error is eliminated.
Depending on the condition, your child may also need to look at letters or images to determine the extent of visual impairment.
In young children, it may be necessary to dilate the pupil and relax the focusing muscle with eye drops to get an accurate diagnosis. The eye drops cause blurred vision and light sensitivity for several hours following the appointment.
- Each eye is given a prescription. Then, an optometrist or optician prepares the lenses.
- Level of correction. The higher the first number on the prescription, the greater the correction required in the lens. A second number means there is some astigmatism, and the higher the number, the greater astigmatism.
- Far or near sighted. A plus sign in front of the first number indicates a hyperopic (farsighted) prescription, while a minus sign indicates a myopic (near-sighted) prescription.
Frequently Asked Questions
Orthoptists assess child’s vision and eye alignment. They help doctors diagnose children’s eye conditions. They may dilate the child’s eye before seeing the doctor which can take 45 minutes to work, and effect may last up to 48 hours.
You should avoid glass lenses for your child because they are more likely to break. Plastic or polycarbonate lenses with a scratch-resistant coating are suitable because they are light, durable and safe. Some high-power prescriptions can result in thick lenses, but your optometrist may be able to modify the lenses to make them slimmer around the edges, so they look less obtrusive.
The frame you choose for your child should be comfortable, safe, sturdy and attractive. It’s best to purchase the glasses from a child-friendly optometrist who can recommend a suitable style for your child’s facial features, age, prescription power and activities. For infants, straps may need to be substituted for earpieces to help keep the glasses in place.
As children tend to be careless when removing their glasses, flexible hinges are advisable and a lot more durable. You can let an older child help select the frames, but follow your optometrist’s advice about size and fit, as a child will not wear uncomfortable glasses.
Some frames can be fitted with clip-on sunglasses. They are not essential, but sunglasses are advisable for all children on bright days.
Parents need to show a positive attitude towards the glasses without making too much fuss. If your child is an infant or toddler, distract them after you have put on the glasses. If your child removes them, replace them immediately. If the problem continues, put the glasses aside for a short time and try again later. It’s crucial to be persistent, as your child’s eye issues won’t be resolved if they don’t wear the glasses.
Usually, when a child is prescribed glasses, they must be worn all the time. Some children have amblyopia (‘lazy eye’) with poor development of the visual pathways to the brain because the image is blurred. In these situations, the child must wear glasses all the time so the brain can strengthen neural pathways to the affected eye. If one eye sees more poorly even with the glasses, then the better eye may also need to be patched (covered up) for part of each day.
Children should learn to remove their glasses using both hands and without twisting the frame. Glasses should be kept in a protective case and not put face down on any surface. Use water or liquid soap and a soft cloth to clean them and avoid rough paper towels or tissues.
If the glasses are damaged or badly scratched, take them back to your optometrist for repair or replacement. Children’s glasses usually need to be adjusted every few months, more frequently than adults.