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To mark World Sight Day 2023, we want to share some tips with you on how to look after your children’s eyes and protect their vision.

Good eyesight is crucial in ensuring that a child develops to their full potential. 

If they can’t see clearly, they may struggle to learn at school, they might not be able to discover the love of reading, and they might find it difficult to socialise with other children. 

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20% of school children

have an undetected vision problem

A baby’s eyesight develops rapidly, learning to track objects, see in colour and increasing detail, and make the eyes work together. 

This visual learning process continues well into primary school age and up until around 8 years old. 

After this age, there is minimal ability for the vision to improve, so any eye problems must be detected and treated early to allow the vision to develop normally.

What can stop vision from developing properly?

Anything that blurs the image entering the eye can prevent the vision from developing normally. This includes:

  • Having an uncorrected spectacle prescription in one or both eyes
  • A squint
  • Something physically blocking the vision, such as a ptosis (droopy eyelid), cataract (cloudy intraocular lens) or corneal scar (when the clear window to the eye becomes hazy). A child can be born with or develop these things, for example, from a nasty eye infection, allergy or trauma.

How do I know if my child has an eye problem?

Often, children do not display any symptoms of eye problems, especially if it is only in one eye. 

They don’t complain as readily as adults because, to them, their level of vision is all they know as normal, and they may be too young to communicate that they are struggling. 

There are, however, some things to look out for and consider:

  • An eye that drifts in or out
  • Frequent eye rubbing or blinking
  • Sitting very close to the TV
  • Headaches or eyestrain
  • Difficulty concentrating at school or problems reading
  • Family history of glasses wear from a young age, childhood squints or eye diseases
  • Children with developmental conditions such as Autism, Down’s syndrome and cerebral palsy are more likely to have associated eye problems.
  • More acute symptoms - red, sticky eyes suggest a bacterial infection. Red, itchy and watery eyes suggest an allergy. Severe light sensitivity can also indicate a problem.

The only way to know that everything is okay is by having the eyes checked. You can take your child for a comprehensive eye test with your local optometrist. 

This is recommended at least every two years for all children from three to four years old, as the sooner something is detected, the better chance there is of treating it successfully and preventing any lasting problems. 

They can investigate your concerns by measuring the vision and spectacle prescription, checking eye movements, and assessing ocular health.

Eye tests for children under 16 years of age (and under 19 years if in full-time education) are fully funded by the NHS, and if spectacles are required, an optical voucher is provided for payment. 

A child doesn’t necessarily have to read to have an eye examination. Picture recognition tests and matching cards can be used, and many measurements can be done simply by looking. Most children find it quite a fun experience! 

If further investigations or treatment are required, the optometrist can refer a child to their GP or hospital eye department. 

The good news is that children respond very well to treatment if they are picked up soon enough. 

This might involve glasses or contact lens wear, patching, eye drops, or sometimes surgery.

Lots of information for parents can be found on the Moorfield’s Eye Hospital website, the Children’s Services (Paediatrics) page, the Association of Optometrists website, the Children’s Eye Health page and the NHS website.

You can also get information and advice on eye conditions and treatments from Moorfield’s paediatric telephone helpline on 0207 566 2209.

Staffed by experienced ophthalmic paediatric trained nurses, the helpline is open Monday to Friday, 10am-1pm, and from 2pm-4pm.

Is there anything else I can do to look after my child’s eyes?

  • Whilst there is no evidence that prolonged screen time causes any lasting ocular damage, it can lead to the eyes becoming strained, tired or dry, so it is essential to take regular breaks.
  • Ensure their eyes are protected from the sun by wearing sunglasses with a CE quality mark and the British Standard BS EN 1836:2005.
  • Do not allow children to play with laser pointers; these can cause significant burns to the central retina and permanent visual loss.
  • Ensure they eat a healthy, balanced diet and keep hydrated.

A special note on myopia

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Short-sightedness, or myopia, is increasing worldwide, more likely in those:

  • who have parents that are short-sighted
  • who are of East-Asian origin
  • who are heavily engaged in near tasks and spend less time outdoors

There is considerable ongoing research into different treatments for children to reduce their myopia progression.

These treatments include specialist myopia control contact lenses and glasses, low concentration atropine eye drops and orthokeratology.

These treatments include specialist myopia control contact lenses and glasses, low-concentration atropine eye drops and orthokeratology.

All of these options have shown similar success, with around 1D less myopia over 1-3 years.

Lower levels of myopia can have positive benefits, for instance, better unaided and aided vision, improved cosmesis, comfort and cost of spectacles as they are less thick and heavy. Preventing high myopia may reduce the incidence of associated complications, such as retinal detachments.

It is well known that increased time playing outdoors in the daylight and less time inside carrying out intensive close work can help to reduce the development of short-sightedness, so it is importance to find a healthy balance.

Currently, myopia progression treatments are only available privately and not on the NHS. You can contact your local optometrist practice on the high street for more information and to find a specialist that offers these treatments.

We’re pleased to be working in partnership with the Medical Research Foundation to invest £1.7 million into child and adolescent eye research, which has the potential to bring new treatments to millions of children globally.