OPTOMETRY & EYEWEAR with Melissa Hay, Visique Milford
As a teenager I was diagnosed with myopia (commonly known as short-sightedness) so I know what it’s like being young with rapidly deteriorating vision. I spent my formative years in and out of the local optometrist’s practice where I had my eyes tested and was given new lens prescriptions on a seemingly regular basis. Despite the best efforts of my optometrists, my eyesight continued to deteriorate.
However, my experiences as a teenager actually inspired me to undertake studies and pursue a career in optometry and research – an occupation that I am truly passionate about. What’s great is that during this time, technology and research has increased the range of treatment options and improved the quality of care for children with vision problems.
It’s interesting to note it is relatively common for young children to have difficulty with their sight – something which parents are often surprised to hear. We are lucky in New Zealand to have an organisation such as Plunket that helps look after a baby’s general health, including their eye health. However, I recommend parents take their children to have a professional eye examination around the age of four – certainly before they start school – to ensure that both their vision and eye health is to a high standard.
Some of the most common vision problems in children are:
Short-sightedness or myopia is where near objects can be seen clearly, but objects in the distance appear blurry. Myopia often begins in childhood and is related to the size of the eyeball, the condition may get worse as children’s eyes continue to grow.
Long-sightedness or hyperopia, causes near objects to appear blurry; this condition is often the result of having a smaller-than-average eyeball. As eyes continue to grow into adulthood, this condition can actually improve as a child grows. Despite this, some people can remain hyperopic throughout life.
Astigmatism is a focussing error of the eyes which causes objects to appear blurry. It is caused by the shape of the eye (which is commonly described as being rugby ball shaped) and usually due to the cornea’s surface or occasionally due to the eye’s lens being tilted. Sometimes astigmatism can be inherited but it often happens as a normal characteristic of growth. Interestingly, the condition is often mistaken for a learning difficulty in children as it causes them to have problems focussing and concentrating.
Strabismus, more commonly known as ‘crossed-eye’ or ‘turned-eye,’ is a disorder where the two eyes do not line up in the same direction, resulting in the eyes not looking at the same object at the same time. This can cause children to use only the better eye in order to avoid double-vision and this causes the development of a lazy eye. It is therefore essential that any eye crossings are looked at by a professional as soon as it is noticed.
Amblyopia or lazy eye is the most common cause of vision problems in children which is the loss of one eye’s ability to see details. The condition occurs because the abnormal eye sends a blurred or wrong image to the brain. Which confuses the brain and it then may learn to ignore the image from the weaker eye. Up until the age of eight the brain is developing all of the connections from the eye to the brain; if there is a lazy eye, then the crucial connections are not developed. There has been significant increases in treatment options along with improved treatment outcomes available to children with visual impairments over recent years.
Glasses are the most common treatment option for managing short-sightedness. They offer the patient versatility, in that they can be worn all the time or just for distance tasks – such as seeing the whiteboard at school. Most parents will know however, that it can be quite difficult to get a child to wear glasses. However, things have progressed somewhat so nowadays there are glasses specifically made to fit a child’s face and there is a wide range of colours and styles for them to choose from.
Contact lenses are an option for older children, usually only suggested for children over the age of 12. Contact lenses come in many different forms, with the most common being dailies or monthly replacement lenses.
Only in extreme cases would surgery be recommended to correct a child’s vision problem.
Ortho-K is a non-surgical procedure providing patients with accurate vision and removes the need of wearing glasses or contact lenses during the day. It works by gently remoulding the cornea, and uses a specially designed lens worn at night, which sleeping. Ortho-K is generally available for children 11 years and up, but in certain cases it could be appropriate for younger children.
Research has shown Ortho-K can slow or even stop the degeneration of eyesight in children suffering from short-sightedness, as well as removing the need for them to wear glasses or contact lenses during the day. The procedure does not involve needles or cutting of the tissue. There is significant potential for ortho-K in younger patients whose eyesight has yet to considerably deteriorate.
Research shows 80% of a child’s learning is done visually, so it’s really important that any issues your child may have with vision are identified before they start school. A routine eye examination for a child takes about 30 minutes and checks co-ordination, tracking, colour vision, whether they need glasses and most importantly the health of their eyes. The examination will cost around $50, or is free if you have a Community Services Card. Some children are even eligible for a subsidised eye examination, frames and lenses through Enable New Zealand.
Melissa Hay, Visique Milford Optometrists,155 Kitchener Road, Milford, 489 4797.