My then 3 year old son kept walking up to the TV and watching it up close. Repeated requests to not go to close would only result in him sitting away for a few minutes and then gradually inching up to it again. He was fine otherwise; didn’t complain of not being able to see and was doing fine in preschool (as it was mainly individual activities not involving any distance reading). As his TV viewing problem persisted I spoke to my ophthalmologist husband who coolly responded with a “Yes I know, he might need glasses!” I was shocked! He was just 3! How could he develop power so quickly? Will it keep increasing as he grows up? Would eye exercises benefit him in any way? What about a healthy diet? Would that help? And what if he got too dependent on glasses? Would other kids make fun of him in school for wearing glasses? The mother in me went into overdrive! After calming me down my husband went on to explain about refractive errors in children. 

Refractive errors happen when light reflected from an object is not focussed properly by the eye resulting in blurry vision. There are many types of refractive errors. It is very important to detect the error early in children and treat them as they don’t realize that there is something wrong in the first place. The only clue my son gave me was watching TV up close. You can also watch out for other symptoms like:       

  • Rubbing the eye       
  • Headache       
  • Fatigue    
  • Being disinterested in school

As a parent, even if you have the faintest tinge of doubt regarding your child’s vision get them checked immediately. Your child deserves the benefit of the doubt. Children with refractive errors more often than not have a genetic predisposition – so it is best to check the sibling too. Refractive errors are easily corrected with spectacles. Do not hesitate to encourage your child to use glasses. It is a myth that glasses will weaken his eyesight; on the contrary it will benefit him greatly.

Of course, do let your child get plenty of outdoor play time. Time spent outside lessens the chances of refractive errors and also slows the progression. There is enough scientific research to prove its benefits. Eye exercises also have a limited role in helping the eyes relax but they may not do any miracles. I have heard of several anecdotes of people losing their spectacle power after doing some magical eye exercises - I would take these stories with a pinch of salt as there is no large scale scientific data to support these tall claims.

The significance of a healthy diet cannot be stressed enough. Yes I too have the experience with my fussy kids who gag at the sight of anything green on their plates but nevertheless it needs to be enforced. Green leafy vegetables, carrot, broccoli, nuts, citrus fruits should all form part of your child’s diet - they contain beta carotene which helps in several vital eye functions.

The most modern problem that our children face (literally!) is the mobile phone. Watching this handheld illuminated monster causes a strain not only on the kids’ eyes but also affects their concentration, mood and creativity. Say a simple NO to cellphones and hand held devices when it comes to your child. Cutting down on my son’s Youtube time worked wonders on my son’s mental development – I can vouch for that.

With the child’s growth the refractive error may also increase in magnitude. They need to be periodically examined to ensure that they are wearing the right power spectacles. And yes, the power does increase despite wearing spectacles regularly till it stabilises at about adulthood. There is a scientific paper which proves that increase in the refractive error in growing children can be controlled with certain eye drops and you may want to discuss it with your eye doctor. 

My son is now 5 years old and is very comfortable using his glasses. He takes them with him wherever he goes and wears them without me nagging him to - a testament to how much his glasses are helping him. And as to my worry of him being made fun of in school – his glasses’ frame has a pic of Lightning McQueen printed on it. He feels like he's the coolest 5 year old around!

- A responsible mother