My five-year-old son Jack now wears eyeglasses. No, it’s not due to extreme gadget use, and yes, it’s a defensive answer to what I thought was the culprit.
Jack never complained of headaches or blurry vision; in fact, he reads pretty well. But now that I think of it, he was kind of accident-prone, which I blamed on lack of coordination.
One day I had my annual eye checkup in the mall, and figured my son should get his eyes checked, too. But I wasn’t prepared to hear what the optometrist said: “Mataas ang grado. Please take him to an ophthalmologist to be sure.”
Such normal parents’ reactions as “upset, worried and guilty” weren’t necessary, I later realized, after stumbling upon littlefoureyes.com, a great resource for parents of children who need to wear glasses.
Apparently, vision problems are usually hereditary and common among preemies.
Jack wasn’t born prematurely. And, despite being quite the bookworm, my vision is still 20/20, but I’ve worn low-grade glasses on-and-off since high school.
My husband Jason is not much of a reader, but also started wearing low-grade glasses recently. The optometrist said that this is normal, considering we are both in our late 30s.
My mother took us to the same optical shop every year since we were kids, but my siblings and I never really needed specs then. So I didn’t expect Jack to be needing them at his age. But these days, we see more children wearing glasses most likely because doctors and parents are more aware of vision screening than before.
Bhambi Uellyn Gesite-de Leon, MD DPBO, pediatric ophthalmology and strabismus specialist, said that “children may harbor eye diseases that can go unnoticed because they do not have visual complaints, or because their eyes look straight or normal.”
How would parents know if their kids need glasses? What are the signs?
If you observe your children squinting when trying to focus at certain objects, or when their faces turn to the left or right when watching TV, or if you note any eye misalignment, then it is advised to bring them to a pediatric ophthalmologist for a checkup.
Sometimes the teacher will report to parents that the child approaches the board to see what is written on it. Subtle signs include a notebook that is empty or has few handwritten notes when compared to their classmates’ notebooks. Sometimes these kids don’t do well in quizzes and exams because of poor vision.
At what age should we have our kids’ eyes checked?
Early detection of pediatric ocular disease is critical. Congenital cataracts, retinoblastoma (eye cancer) and congenital glaucoma entail early treatment in infancy. If diagnosis is delayed, it may result in irreversible blindness or even death (as in the case of retinoblastoma).
Vision screening is usually provided by the pediatrician, and should start in the newborn nursery and continue at every well baby visit. If vision screening shows eye abnormalities, then the child must be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye examination.
Will going to an optical shop at the mall suffice?
In pediatric patients, the focusing muscles of the eyes are very strong, so that use of an automated refractor machine, found in optical shops, usually overcorrects the child’s prescription. Hence, we advise pediatric patients to undergo cycloplegic refraction.
In this method, a specific eyedrop is applied to the eyes to relax the focusing muscles, and then refraction is checked after 30-40 minutes using a handheld instrument called a retinoscope. This is the most accurate way of determining the proper eye degree of the child. Even in a nonverbal patient, the pediatric ophthalmologist will be able to determine if he or she requires glasses.
Are there any necessary preparations before getting the kids’ eyes checked?
There is no special preparation required prior to visiting a pediatric ophthalmologist. On the first visit, cycloplegic refraction is usually performed as part of the comprehensive eye exam. The parents and the child are made aware that the eyedrops will make the near vision blurred, as the focusing muscles of the eyes are suspended. The child may also complain of light sensitivity (photophobia) because the eyedrops will cause the pupils to dilate. These side effects are temporary and usually last for just 24 hours.
In my experience, though, on the first visit to the ophthalmologist, he warned that we should take the test with the drops at a time when Jack had no homework, as it would affect his vision temporarily. Jack didn’t complain about it, though.
There will also be some waiting, as the drops have to be applied on each eye every 10 minutes, three times before we could repeat the vision exam. The drops also sting a bit, and the clinic we went to wasn’t a pediatric one, so they weren’t used to handling kids.
Good thing I remembered a YouTube video by Doctor Janina on a trauma-free way to put eyedrops on children, which I had Googled previously when I had to put eyedrops on a squirmy Jack when he had sore eyes: Have him lie down flat and close his eyes in a relaxed manner (without squeezing them shut), put a drop in the inner corner of each eye and have him blink at least three times. Only 1/6 of a drop needs to be absorbed by the eye, so no need for additional drops; the rest is excess.
Box: Helping Jack adjust to his new ‘eyes’
YOUR child needs more support once he/she starts wearing the glasses.
“Farsighted children can focus through their farsightedness, which can make it harder for them to accept glasses because they don’t always see the benefit to them, and they have to learn to relax their focusing muscle and let the glasses focus for them,” explained Ann Zawistoski on littlefoureyes.com.
We went to three optical shops in the mall and got the most child-friendly frames (plastic, not metal) for Jack’s small face. It was also important that he chose the design to get him to wear them.
However, we kept returning to the shop because Jack at age 5 wasn’t used to being careful with his new glasses and would accidentally bend them, so they had to be readjusted pretty often. We should just get him a backup pair.
We may also need to DIY some elastics to form a strap behind his head to keep his glasses from falling off his tiny nose, especially when he gets active. Frames for kids that loop behind the ears weren’t available in any of the stores we visited.
Another challenge was being consistent with enforcing new rules such as: Glasses stay on your face, or in their case; use both hands to carefully put on/take off your glasses; and, have an adult clean your dirty glasses.
Thankfully, we haven’t had to deal with other kids teasing Jack about his new glasses, so there wasn’t much trouble getting him to wear them. His classmates were curious at first, but no one bugged him about it.
What we’ve had to endure are comments from adults, which run the gamut from “Kawawa naman” to “Hinayaan sa sobrang iPad kasi,” without any proof of it.
Vision is such a crucial tool to effective learning. Just as we take our kids to the dentist every six months as soon as they turn a year old, bringing our children for eye exams should be done at least annually. Hopefully, with more children getting screened early, their vision can be corrected sooner than later.