School resumption: parents must prioritize their child’s eye health

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By Sade Oguntola 

Even as schools have resumed this January, there’s no shortage of possible worries in sending children to school. Short-sightedness, far-sightedness and unexpected mishaps can create problems. As a child’s eyes and vision develop, parents must help to safeguard children’s eye health. Refractive errors such as near-sightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism are the most common conditions. Parents might notice near-sightedness if a child always gets up close or squints his eyes to see things far away. 

Also, some children might have strabismus. In this case, the child’s eyes don’t seem to be lining up when making eye contact with people or objects. During this harmattan season, some children may experience redness, tearing, itchy or light sensitivity, which could be signs of inflammation or infection in a child’s eyes. 

As schools are resuming back this New Year, Dr Henrietta Monye, an eye specialist at Eleta Eye Institute, Ibadan, says parents must not overlook an important factor when sending children to school: an eye examination. According to Dr Monye, children’s eye examinations are very important to ensure that their eyes are healthy and that they do not have any vision problems that could interfere with their schoolwork or jeopardize their safety. “Some schools require that before children are enrolled in school, they have an eye check. But as a parent, even if the school your child wants to go to doesn’t require it, it’s good practice to be sure that the child doesn’t have any abnormality that will affect his progress and success in school,” she advised. 

Experts say approximately 25% of school children have vision problems that can affect their academic performance. In addition to that, the risk of short-sightedness and its progression continues throughout the school years. “Eye check-ups in children should start at birth. Many eye conditions are present at birth or occur within the very few months of life. In children, when eye problems like cataracts, glaucoma or even refractive errors like short-sightedness are not picked up on time, it can lead to a lifetime of blindness. 

Cataracts, for instance, can lead to a lifetime of blindness. Unlike in adults, cataracts in children if detected and removed on time can lead to what is called amblyopia or lazy eye. The eye will appear not to be working together because the brain-eye connection is not formed correctly in the early stages of life. Even when the cataract is later removed, the brain has already ignored the vision so it is almost impossible for the child to regain good vision after that. Any blockage of the communication between the brain and the eye for any reason, including amblyopia can cause poor eyes sight. 

Dr Monye added that such things as white specks in the middle of the eye, eyes that appear to look bigger than normal, excessive eye discharge, squinting, wondering eyes, eyes sensitive to light and eyes that don’t seem to work together when observed in a child are not normal. According to her, such children regardless of their age must be quickly taken to the hospital to see an eye doctor for a proper eye check and appropriate care. Parents shouldn’t wait for when the child grows older or think that the child is too small to have an eye examination. 

Dr Monye said in some cases children might also require to have glasses when they are not been able to see clearly and can have a good quality of life. If they require it, they will be given glasses. This may not be very popular among parents because parents see a child as “too young” to wear glasses. But one important thing is that it is far better to have your child have a better quality of life by having glasses than go by what people say and the stigma that they may attach to it. She stated that there are now so many fine, brightly coloured eye glass frames that children would like and should be encouraged to wear. 

So, there is no reason for a mother to say ‘my child cannot wear glasses’ because there are all sorts of frames for all sorts of babies. There are small frames even for babies that are less than one year old who have had cataract surgeries and require glasses to help them see better. Moreover, she declared that parents must pay attention to poor children reading with materials too close to the face, a short attention span, and complaints of headaches or discomfort because they may all be signs that a child may have a vision problem. It’s important to remember, a lack of eye health can be at the expense of a student’s academic, social and general performance potential. It’s the perfect time to focus on everything that can be done to protect and maximize your child’s vision. Be sure to have their eyes tested annually and be wise about eye protection.

The writer, Sade Oguntola, is a journalist with the Tribune Newspaper



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