Reading under poor lighting. Watching an unhealthy load of television. Constant use of hand-held electronic devices. These are current-day exposures that develop problems in the eyes of young children.
Children might not be able to communicate their difficulty in seeing as a result of these unhealthy activities — which in turn affect learning. It is thus important for parents to monitor for signs of eye problems their child might have.
According to Dr. Veronica Tay, Deputy Director of Student Health Centre and National Myopia Prevention Programme at the Health Promotion Board (HPB), ‘refractive errors’ in a child’s eye may develop between birth and the age of 6 to 9 years. The most common pre-school vision problems are refractive errors which range from far-sightedness hyperopia), to near-sightedness (myopia) and astigmatism.
Different kinds of problems with vision
Myopia, also known as short-sightedness, is a condition where distant objects are not clear. It is usually caused by an elongation of the eyeball that occurs over time Because of this, light entering the eye is not properly focused onto the retina.
Hyperopia, also known as long-sightedness or far-sightedness, is the condition where near objects are not clear. It is caused by a shorter eyeball or an abnormal shape of the cornea and is common in young children leading to strabismus (squinting).
Dr. Tay says uncorrected strabismus may lead to amblyopia or ‘lazy eye’. Amblyopia happens when the brain does not fully recognise images seen by the amblyopic eye, reducing the eye’s ability to see.
Astigmatism is due to an irregularly shaped cornea where part of it does not allow light to focus onto the retina. This result in an area of blur within a clear image. Astigmatism may occur along with either myopia or hyperopia.
Symptoms to look for
The following is a checklist for parents to watch for in their child:
Studies have shown children who spend more time on outdoor activities have less risk of developing myopia. Dr. Tay, however, points out the absence of proven preventive measures.
“Though we cannot prevent the development of these refractive errors, early detection and management is vital in correcting vision for better learning,” she says.
The National Myopia Prevention Programme (NMPP), started in 2001, aims to delay the onset and progression of myopia using a two-pronged approach.
The first raises awareness for early detection and management of defective vision through public education, and promoting outdoor activities and other good eye care habits in children.
The second involves regular vision screening focusing on early detection, management and monitoring of myopia prevalence rate among children.
Dr. Tay says, “Vision screening can also indicate if a child has long-sightedness or astigmatism as these also manifest as blurred vision.”
To this end, vision screening is conducted for Kindergarten 1 and 2 students, primary school students as well as Secondary 1, 2 and 4 students as part of the annual health screening.
On diagnosis, younger children (K1, K2 and P1 students) found to have poor visual acuity (of Snellen 6/12 or worse) are referred to the Refraction Clinic at the Student Health Centre, HPB. Prescriptions are then given for spectacles to be made at optical shops. Children who require further assessment are referred to the Paediatric Ophthalmologists at the public hospitals.
Better eye care
Dr. Tay has the following tips for promoting better eye care for children:
Early Childhood Development Agency