Who wouldn't want their child's eyes to be hale and hearty? Here are useful tips to help you ensure the same!
By Dr Tulika Kar
A child’s sense of sight develops over a period after birth. It is most vulnerable during the first seven to eight years of life. As a child grows, there may be changes in her vision and this can impact her learning. She may not be able to express her difficulties with seeing; hence, most vision-related issues go undetected by parents and teachers. Therefore, a formal vision check-up is important at this stage.
At birth, a child’s vision, which is poor, grows very fast along with the brain. By 3 months of age, a baby is able to fix her gaze at close range and thus smiles at her mother. This is an important landmark in a child’s vision milestone. From here on, the child’s vision keeps developing till 5 years of age, when she is able to read 6/6 on the vision chart with each eye, provided her visual development is normal. She is also able to appreciate the depth perception (3-dimensional views). Any eye disease occurring during this time has a great effect on the achievement of normal vision. Presence of any problem, if detected early and treated promptly, can restore vision to normalcy.
This is a process of checking the visual functions. Different techniques of vision estimation are available and they vary based on the age of the child. Even when quantification is difficult, a comparative qualitative examination is useful. In developed nations, this is done as a routine procedure as early as a few weeks after birth by the attending paediatricians during clinical examination of the babies. In our set-up, a primary healthcare provider like a paediatrician, physician, nurse or even a teacher can detect visual problems. A child ‘screened’ should be referred to the eye doctor promptly. In the first year, one has to look for the steadiness of the eyes, signs of abnormality in the size, shape, movements and colour of the eye, position of the eyes, etc.
Special screening is done at the first month of life for premature babies born within 32 weeks of pregnancy, low birth-weight babies weighing less than 1800 g and all sick babies, irrespective of the gestational age and birth weight.
In recent times, survival rate of premature babies in India has increased, thanks to improved neo-natal care. As a result, Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) is also on rise apart from associated squeal of prematurity. A study in India quotes an incidence of ROP at 38% among babies born with birth weight less than 1500 g, and estimates that at least 20% of them are at a risk of developing permanent vision impairment.
When a child is born pre-term, the development of Retinal Vasculature (development of blood vessels that supply the inner portion of the retina) is not complete. This normally happens by 38-40 weeks. Though most of them develop into a normal mature retina, in some neonates with certain risk factors, the incompletely developed Retinal Vasculature gives rise to Neovascularisation (the formation of atypical, tiny and leaky fragile blood vessels within the eye). Its complications result in ROP, potentially leading to severe vision impairment. In its early stages, a simple intervention with retinal laser is sufficient to prevent further complications.
It is recommended that premature and low birth weight babies undergo a thorough check-up of their eyes 1 month after their birth. The condition, if not detected promptly, can lead to bleeding inside the eye, resulting in permanent loss of sight. Usually, this goes undetected silently when the infants are in NICU, since other systemic problems warrant more intensive care to save their lives.
From the second year onwards, in addition to the above, a child needs a detailed examination to detect refractive errors that may necessitate use of spectacles. This applies more to children of the parents and siblings with a history of eye ailments. They should have a periodic screening by an ophthalmologist.
In addition to the information given above, it is important you ensure your child eats a healthy diet. You should always include fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamin A in the diet of your child. It can be found in green leafy vegetables, carrot, papaya and cod liver oil. Ensure your child reads in adequate lighting and avoids doing excessive work that requires a closer, highly focussed look at a very early age, especially using mobile phones. Make sure your child protects his eyes from injuries by avoiding usage of sharp objects while playing, and maintaining basic personal hygiene.
After all, happiness is all about beautiful eyes!
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