Finding out your child needs to wear glasses can be upsetting and overwhelming -- even if you suspected an eye issue. Moms and dads who have been through it recommend finding a pediatric ophthalmologist you and your child are both comfortable with (since you'll seeing her regularly), as well as connecting with other parents online or in your community to share tips and experiences.
The American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus (AAPOS) says that the most common reasons a child needs to wear glasses are:
- To improve vision and help the child to function better in his environment
- To help straighten eyes that are crossed or misaligned, which is a condition called strabismus
- To help strengthen a weak or "lazy" eye
- To protect one eye if the child has poor vision in the other
The AAPOS says it's important to remember that during early childhood your little one's visual system is growing and developing, and glasses can help ensure normal vision development.
Getting Your Child's Eyes Examined
Glasses are very often used to treat refractive errors, which are the most frequent eye problems in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Refractive errors are vision problems that happen when the shape of a person's eye prevents it from focusing correctly. Refractive errors in kids include nearsightedness (difficulty seeing things that are far away), farsightedness (trouble seeing things close by), and astigmatism (distorted vision caused by an irregularly shaped cornea).
Your child's pediatrician will do a vision screening at some well visits, and if he has any concerns, your child will be referred to an ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam, which can uncover issues such as refractive errors. During the exam, the ophthalmologist can use special eye drops to relax the muscles that focus the eye. This way, he can measure each eye and look for any abnormalities. He can also determine an accurate prescription for glasses, if necessary.
Getting Your Child to Wear Glasses
You may wonder how on earth you're going to get your child, especially a very young one, to wear glasses. The good news is that it might be easier than you think. "For the most part, if a child needs glasses she'll wear them, because kids like to see the world clearly," says Lauren S. Blieden, M.D., a cornea specialist and comprehensive ophthalmologist at the Robert Cizik Eye Clinic and assistant clinical professor at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. However, age can play a role in how tough of a sell the specs are. "Babies are usually okay with glasses because they don't know any better. Toddlers can be difficult, though," says Laura K. Green, M.D., a pediatric ophthalmologist at the Krieger Eye Institute and director of the ophthalmology residency program at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore. "Glasses are very well accepted among elementary school kids. In fact, we sometimes have kids coming in claiming that their vision is blurry just because they want glasses," she says.
If your child is resistant, though, you'll have to take a strong, pro-glasses stance. Just like always riding in a car seat or booster, or holding an adult's hand to cross the street, "wearing glasses needs to be expected and nonnegotiable," says Dr. Green. "If a child under age 5 doesn't wear his glasses as prescribed by the doctor, there can be permanent vision consequences."
Choosing the Right Glasses
While whether or not to wear eyeglasses isn't up to your child, you can give her more leeway when it comes to selecting her specs. "Children's glasses have really come a long way in terms of color choices and durability," says Dr. Green. "I encourage parents to allow their child to choose whatever color they want." Another tip: "Definitely get a pediatric frame that is sized appropriately and durable," says Dr. Blieden. "I would avoid the wire frames, especially in active children. They might look nice but they can get bent very easily. I recommend plastic frames instead. There are some awesome colorful, gummy frames that strap on with a headband," she says. "Your child can chew on them, drop them, or even sit on them and they're not going to break."
To find the best fit, the AAPOS recommends working with an optician who has plenty of experience with children. Well-fitting frames will be comfortable and the eye will be centered in the middle of the lens. The AAPOS also suggests opting for polycarbonate lenses because they are shatterproof -- a quality that will come in handy on the playground for sure.
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