Focus on Pediatrics: More education on eye health and safety needed

Children don’t get eye exams

September is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, an important health issue that needs to be promoted throughout the year. According to the health observance’s sponsoring organization, Prevent Blindness America based in Schaumburg, IL, almost 80% of preschool-age children never get an eye exam, and many back-to-school physicals fail to screen for common eye disorders.

The organization recommends that children have their first eye exam shortly after birth with a second exam at 6 months. The next eye exam should occur before children enter school at age 4 or 5 and continue periodically throughout the school years.


"During Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month, we hope to educate people about the common causes of children’s eye injury and vision problems and encourage vision screening at an early age," says Betsy VanDie, media relations director for Prevent Blindness America.

What does the public need to know? In addition to an increased awareness of the need for eye exams for children, they need to know the common causes of eye injury and vision problems, says VanDie. According to Prevent Blindness America, the frequency and severity of at least 90% of children’s eye injuries could be reduced if people were more aware of the dangers and hazards that caused the injuries and provided better supervision for children.

Prevent Blindness America lists the most common causes of eye injuries as:

• misuse or altering of toys.

• falls in the home involving beds, stairs, tables, and toys;

• misuse of items such as home repair and yard care products, kitchen utensils, silverware, pens and pencils;

• accidental exposure to household and cleaning products such as detergents, paints, pesticides, glues and adhesives;

• automobile accidents.

There are several symptoms that indicate a serious eye injury has occurred that requires immediate medical attention. These include pain or vision problems, abnormal pupil size or shape, blood in the clear portion of the eye and one eye that sticks out in comparison to the other.

Complete fact sheets on children’s eye safety that can be distributed at eye screenings, health fairs, or other events are available through Prevent Blindness America. (See contact information in the source box, below.)

While parents, teachers, and other adults who work with children need to know the signs of possible eye trouble, they also need to be aware that some potentially serious problems have no symptoms. "Sometimes a child complains of headaches which is a symptom, but some eye disorders have no symptoms, and those are often the more dangerous disorders if not treated," says VanDie.

For example, amblyopia is a condition where the vision in one eye is reduced because it did not receive adequate use during early childhood. It is usually caused by eye misalignment or differences in image quality between eyes. Yet if not diagnosed and treated the weak eye could become useless.

Other disorders include strabismus, which occurs when one eye does not aim directly at the object where the other eye is aimed, myopia, or nearsightedness, and hyperopia, or farsightedness. There are signs to detect these disorders. For example, for strabismus, the eyes would appear to be crossed or misaligned.

Symptoms of vision problems might include holding items close to eyes, squinting eyelids, complaints that eyes itch, burn or feel scratchy, and dizziness, headaches, or nausea after doing close-up work. Education doesn’t have to be aimed at adults only, says VanDie. "We have a whole range of publications that have been developed especially for kids," she says. Prevent Blindness America may be contacted for a catalogue listing all publications and videos.

For more information about children’s eye health and safety, contact:

Betsy VanDie, Media Relations Director, Prevent Blindness America, 500 E. Remington Road, Schaumburg, IL 60173. Telephone: (800) 331-2020. Web site: