According to the American Foundation for the Blind, approximately 10 million people in the United States are visually impaired. The term visual impairment is used to describe various forms of vision abnormalities or degrees of vision loss. It’s essential to maintain regular eye exams for children and teens to ensure vision problems are detected early so that they don’t worsen over time. Signs and symptoms that children and adolescents may have vision problems include trouble maintaining eye contact, an apparent inability to focus, nearsightedness or farsightedness, astigmatism or blurry vision, crossed eyes, difficulty following objects, excessive blinking or squinting, eye rubbing, headaches, and problems seeing the chalkboard at school or positioning books close to the eyes while reading. Children and teens with vision problems have many treatment options available depending upon the type and significance of the eye disorder. Generally, therapy and treatment include corrective eyeglasses, contact lenses and laser eye surgery when they reach the appropriate age. According to the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, children should begin vision screening at 6 months of age, again at 3 to 4 years of age, and every year after the age of 5 or 6.
Advancements in health and eyecare have made it easier for eye doctors to more accurately diagnose and treat vision problems in patients of all ages. Smart technology, including smart glasses and smart contacts, has greatly improved the tools of the trade. As smart technology continues to advance, we can expect new treatments and diagnostic techniques to follow.
- Problems with Vision: The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburg explains problems that can affect the vision of children, such as cataracts, childhood glaucoma, crossed eyes and refractive errors.
- Types of Eye Exams: The Eye Center at the Southern College of Optometry discusses the types of exams available to diagnose vision problems.
- Visual Impairment: Nemours defines visual impairment, discusses genetic disorders that can cause problems with vision and how to take care of adolescent’s eyes.
- Focus on Children’s Eye Health and Safety: An article by the University of Florida that discusses the risks and symptoms of eye injuries.
- Eye Exams and Tests for Children and Teens: A concise factsheet by New York University (NYU) that provides guidelines on age appropriate vision screenings.
The advantages of contact lenses as opposed to eyeglasses, include greater comfort, the ability for kids to participate in various sporting activities in which eyeglasses would inhibit involvement; improved appearance and social acceptance, in addition to increased self-esteem and self-confidence, since the majority of children and teens dislike the look of eyeglasses; the avoidance of frequent breakages, since kids tend to be hard on eyeglasses, added protection from ultraviolet exposure, the fact that they are easily adjusted to accommodate changes in vision over time and their ability to slow the progression of shortsightedness by correcting peripheral vision abnormalities. Ophthalmologists may recommend contacts as a necessity over eyeglasses for children and teens that have a vision disorder in only one eye. Parents should provide children with soft contacts, as they’re more suitable for daily wear, afford greater comfort and are appropriate for physical activities and sports. Although contact lenses may be used at an early age, typically, kids begin wearing them when they reach the proper maturity level to assume responsibility for caring for them. Some kids are ready at age 10 or younger, while the average age for contact lenses is 13 years of age or older.
- Contact Lenses a Good Choice for Children 12 and Younger: An article by the Ohio State University, which gives reasons for choosing contact lenses for children that are 12 years of age or younger.
- Contact Lenses for Children and Teens: The British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) offers information on the types of contact lenses that are suitable for children and teens.
- How Old Is ‘Old Enough’ for Contacts?: The University of Rochester Medical Center clarifies at what age children are old enough for wearing contact lenses.
- Children and Glasses: Making a Spectacle?: A discussion about concerns regarding using eyeglasses for young children, as well as why and when they’re used and what to do if kids won’t wear them.
Laser vision surgery, also called refractive surgery, is not generally approved for children or teens under 18 years of age. However, as children reach early adulthood it is a treatment option that will either reduce or completely eliminate the need to wear contact lenses or eyeglasses. Laser procedures are intended to correct refractive errors of the eye caused by abnormalities in the shape of the cornea, which may be associated with astigmatism, nearsightedness or “myopia,” and farsightedness or “hyperopia.” These eye disorders cause refractive irregularities as light is imprecisely reflected on the eye’s retina, which causes vision to become blurred when looking at objects. The various types of laser vision surgeries include LASIK, which uses laser pulses to make corrections in the cornea, in addition to specialized knives that cut the cornea to reshape it; photo refractive keratectomy or PRK, which removes small amounts of tissue and reshapes the cornea with high frequency lasers; laser epithelial keratomileusis or LASEK, which is a combination of both LASIK and PRK; and laser thermal keratoplasty or LTK, which is the least invasive laser procedure that uses heat to make vision corrections. Consideration should be given to the fact that there are certain careers, such as professional organizations and military service that prohibit some types of refractive procedures. Other conditions that would preclude refractive laser vision correction procedures include certain types of eye diseases, large pupils, thin corneas, excessively dry eyes, a high amount of participation in sporting activities, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and refractive instability, which refers to individuals that require frequent changes in corrective vision prescriptions. It’s typically considered cosmetic surgery by health insurers and prices for the procedure vary among ophthalmologists.
- Eye Care: Refractive Surgery (LASIK, LASEK and Implantable Contact Lenses): The University of Kentucky defines LASIK eye treatment for vision correction and explains how it’s performed. The website also offers a video illustrating the procedure.
- Laser Surgery Can Improve Vision Problems: Yale School of Medicine provides a description of laser surgery, what types of vision problems it’s used for and those who are and are not good candidates for the procedure.
- There Are Clear Alternatives to Glasses and Contacts: The Stanford Eye Laser Center at Stanford’s School of Medicine clarifies why laser eye surgery is a viable alternative to eyeglasses and contacts, and discusses the various types of laser eye surgery available.
- LASIK Eye Surgery-Overview: The University of Maryland Medical Center provides a description of laser eye surgery, explains why the procedure is performed, risks associated with the treatment and what to do before the surgery.
- LASIK Eye Surgery: The Mayo Clinic provides illustrative images that show how LASIK surgery is performed to correct and reform the eye’s cornea.