Your child's eyesight – what you need to know

Child having an eye test
Do you take your child for regular eye examinations? We look at why it’s important for their health and the different children's eyesight problems that can arise.

Visual impairment affects a huge percentage of people in the UK, as almost every household harbours at least one bespectacled family member. Eyesight problems are generally perceived to go hand in hand with ageing, but we also need to be keeping a regular check on our children's eyesight.

Recent research conducted by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, in a primary school in Kingston, London, showed that 12 percent of the children had an undetected eye problem, while as many as 43 percent had never had an eye examination.

Undetected problems

The results from Kingston were far from anomalous, as undetected eye problems and a lack of testing among children is an issue that optometrists across the UK are fully aware of.

Since schools have now withdrawn from providing free examinations, eye care should really be high on parents list of priorities. Although the NHS provides a free service for children under 16, only 2.8 million from a possible 12 million took advantage of this in 2007.

Common eye problems to watch out for

Children should have their eyesight tested at least every 18 months. But you should also make an appointment with the optician if you suspect any of the following problems: 

Lazy eye, or amblyopia, is a loss of vision in an eye that is not corrected by glasses alone. Crossed eyes, eyes that don't line up, or one eye that focuses better than the other can cause amblyopia.

Colour Deficiency
This might range from a slight difficulty in telling different shades of a colour apart to not being able to identify any colour.

In myopia (short sightedness), the eyeball is too long for the normal focusing power of the eye. As a result, images of distant objects appear blurred.

Strabismus is a word for eyes that are not straight or do not line up with each other.

In this condition, which is better known as long sightedness, the eyeball is too short for the normal focusing power of the eye. In children, the lens in the eye accommodates for this error and provides clear vision for distance and usually near viewing, but with considerable effort that often causes fatigue and sometimes crossed eyes.

Astigmatism results primarily from an irregular shape of the front surface of the cornea, the transparent 'window' at the front of the eye. People with astigmatism typically see vertical lines more clearly than horizontal ones, and sometimes the reverse.

Some interactive eye check activities have been included in a free eye check story book, Zookeeper Zoe, which can be accessed online or picked up in Boots Opticians. Read it with your child to help you understand if your child might need an optician check-up.

Wearing glasses

Historically, glasses have been stereotypically associated with intellect, and ultimately with being a ‘geek’ or a ‘nerd’. But, if you were a child who suffered from being ‘speccy’ at school, you need not fear, as today’s cultural icons have made glasses cooler than ever, and the College of Optometrists have the evidence to prove it.

They recently asked children all over the UK what they thought of wearing glasses and thanks to international superstars like Harry Potter and Johnny Depp, it would appear that glasses have become a hip playground accessory. 85 percent of children aged ten and under said Harry Potter has ‘made glasses cooler’, while 86 percent of 13-16 year olds were inspired by Pirates of the Caribbean star Johnny Depp to don their thick frames.