Pediatric ophthalmological exams make it possible to prevent diseases and help ensure that a child’s vision develops to its fullest.
Liliana Vélez Correa, Pediatric
Ophthalmologist, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare
When a baby is born, neither their eyes nor their visual system are completely developed. The eyes themselves are not solely responsible for seeing. The process that allows us to see occurs through the nerve connections that connect the eyes to the cerebral cortex. These connections develop progressively over the first seven years of life, when brain plasticity is at its greatest. During this time, clear images reach the brain in order for a person’s visual health to develop correctly.
If the nerve pathway that goes from the eye to the brain is not completely developed before the child turns seven, amblyopia can occur (also known as lazy eye), which is when the affected eye sends a blurry image to the brain that confuses it. According to pediatric ophthalmologist Liliana Vélez, when this condition is not treated properly, the brain simply stops trying to make a connection with the eye. This leads to a serious-enough vision loss that a person may not recover for the rest of their life.
It is therefore important for children to follow the recommendations for vision checkups during their first years of life. The purpose of these visits is to prevent the onset of eye problems, and if they are already present, they can help to treat them in a timely matter in order to prevent long-term consequences in the future. The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommend children get their vision checked once a year. They particularly emphasize the importance of checkups at the following ages, even if no vision problems are detected.
See an eye doctor if you notice the following symptoms:
(Children under age 3)
A change in the color or shape of the eyes.
A pupil that turns white
If the child rubs his or her eyes constantly.
If, during the first 8 months of life, you notice the eye deviates from a fixed gaze or, if after this period, other types of deviations appear.
If the child falls and has many accidents that may be indicative of difficulties in calculating distances or seeing obstacles.
Watery eyes or constant discharge from one or both eyes.
(Children older than 3)
Lack of concentration.
Poor school performance.
Interpersonal relationship problems.
When to check a child’s vision
Newborn: Babies should be checked for the after-effects of an infectious disease a mother may have had during pregnancy such as rubella, measles and toxoplasmosis; congenital diseases, such as glaucoma and cataracts; and tumors such as retinoblastoma that, if not diagnosed in time, can even take a child’s life.
Age 1: The purpose of checkup at this age is to verify that the eye structure is developing properly. It also serves to detect whether the child is experiencing refractive defects such as myopia, hyperopia, astigmatism and anisometropia, where each eye has a different refractive error.
Age 3: At this age, the visual acuity (sharpness) of the child can now be assessed quantitatively as children at this age are able to use the eye chart with which the test is performed. The eye exam will evaluate the ability of the child’s visual system to distinguish the details of an object, as well as how sharp they can see. This exam can also detect abnormalities such as strabismus or refractive problems.
Age 5: Repeating the eye exam at this stage is very important, as children are often starting school and are beginning to read and write, which is why it is critical to make sure children do not have eye conditions that can affect their academic performance. It is very common for children to experience low academic achievement and even disciplinary problems due to poor eyesight. As a result, they may not understand class material or be able focus in class.
Age 7: At this point, the child’s brain plasticity is at its fullest and the development of its visual capacities has come to an end, which is why it is the final checkup for this age group. This exam is a final evaluation that determines how the child’s vision will be in the future. After this age, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends getting general checkups for visual acuity every two years.