Children's eyesight is getting worse.
Short-sightedness in UK youngsters has more than doubled in the last 50 years and a staggering 20% of children starting their reception year have an undiagnosed vision problem.
This rate of increase suggests that lifestyle factors are at play because genetic changes take longer to surface.
Numerous studies have linked increased time spent indoors focusing on near objects such as computers, televisions and mobile phones, alongside greatly reduced outdoor activity time, as the key factors contributing to the rapid deterioration in children's eyesight.
Natural daylight and looking into the middle distance are both needed for little ones' vision to develop correctly.
Babies first have their eyes checked within 72 hours of being born, and again at their six to eight week check by the GP or health visitor.
Also, as part of the routine Personal Child Health Record, eye tests during the first year include:
- Reaching for things they see at 2 to 3 months old
- Starting to copy facial expressions and taking a closer look at things at around 3 to 5 months old
- Focusing on things near and far away and looking at pictures and drawings from 6 to 12 months old
In some areas of the country, a child's eyes may be checked again when they start primary school, but Specsavers recommend a first full eye test by the age of three and Vision Express just before a child starts school.
Of course NHS sight tests are free for children under the age of 16.
It's important to remember younger children rarely complain about their sight, but undetected eye conditions can have a direct link to their behaviour and future educational performance.
The most common visual problem, found in an estimated one in 50 young children, is amblyopia – or lazy eye – where vision doesn't develop properly.
It happens because one or both eyes are unable to build a strong link to the brain and usually only affects one eye, meaning the child can see less clearly out of the affected eye and relies more on the 'good' one.
Interventions include glasses and covering the strong eye with patches or blurring it with eye drops to encourage use of the lazy eye.
If left untreated, lazy eye can lead to a child’s stronger eye becoming dominant with the brain eventually ignoring images from the weaker eye, causing permanent vision loss.
That's why an eye test, which can be carried out from as young as two-and-a-half years old, is so important if parents, carers or Early Years practitioners identify a potential problem.
An optometrist can check whether the child has a squint or needs glasses without asking them any questions, or the tot being able to read, using age-appropriate tests and equipment.
Telltale signs a child may have a problem with their eyesight:
- Sitting too close to the television
- Rubbing their eyes frequently
- Blinking frequently
- Holding objects close to their face
- One eye turning in or out
- Sensitivity to light
- Complaining of headaches