Eye Care for Children - Common Myths

Parents and relatives often nurture beliefs regarding eye diseases and treatment, which cannot be proved by scientific reasoning. Lack of awareness and scientific knowledge about the disease and treatment modalities may lead to improper/delayed treatment and subnormal visual acuity (poor vision), even if treated later. Here we discuss the scientific basis for some of the common myths encountered in pediatric ophthalmology.

Myth # 1 Regular use of glasses can lead to permanent removal of glasses.
Not true. The eyeball is like a camera. The focusing mechanism of the eye should match the size of the eyeball. By using glasses, we achieve a balance between the focusing mechanism and the size of the eyeball. Therefore, the power of the spectacles does not reduce by wearing glasses constantly. The person constantly has a good quality of vision by using glasses, which lessens the strain on the eyes.

Myth # 2 Eye exercises and herbal eye drops can lead to a decrease in the
power of the glasses, and in course of time, one can get rid of glasses. There are no scientific studies to prove this; rather, it has been proved beyond doubt that there are no quick fixes such as eye exercises or herbal medicines that can reduce the power of the glasses required for vision correction. Young children must be encouraged to play in the natural environment at least for an hour or so every day as it is known that rural children and those who have outdoor activity have lesser instances of myopia than urban children who tend to be more home bound.

Myth # 3 By taking vitamin A and eating vegetables like carrots (which contain a high amount of vitamin A) one can get rid of glasses.
There is no doubt that vitamin A is essential for the normal functioning of the retina. However, it does not have any effect on the focusing mechanism of the eyeball. Hence, excess intake of it does not lead to a reduction in the power of spectacles. Vitamin A is useful only for those with a deficiency of vitamin A. Excess supplementation of vitamin A can lead to damage to kidneys/brain. Hence, it should be taken only when indicated by a doctor.

 


Myth # 4 Glasses are required only by elderly people and not young children.
This is actually not true. We often observe elderly members of our family wearing eye glasses, as they suffer from presbyopia – weakening of the muscles needed to focus for near sight. However, different kind of refractive errors, such as short-sightedness, astigmatism and far-sightedness can affect young children. Children too need periodic eye check ups. Recommended ROUTINE eye examination schedule for children:

  • • See Myth # 10 for eye examination in newborn babies
  • • One to two eye check-ups between 2-5 years of age per year
  • • Two to three check-ups between 6-15 years of age per year
  • • Urgent check-up in case of any symptoms or any minor/major
change in eye appearance/visual behaviour

Myth # 5 Squinting of the eyes is not an eye problem but God's gift to our family.
It is a common belief that a squint is a sign of good luck. However, this is not true. This condition occurs due to an imbalance in the eye muscles and if appropriate treatment (glasses or surgery) is not given at the correct time, there may be permanent decrease in vision in one or both eyes. Thus it is not only a cosmetic blemish but also leads to loss of vision and depth perception. Also, a squinting eye can have a serious underlying disease including eye cancer, hence, every squint eye needs a detailed complete examination.

Myth # 6 Squint correction should be done around the age of 18 years.
This is incorrect. Squint surgery can be performed at any age. However, if the squint is present from early childhood it is best that surgery is done as early as possible. If surgery is not done early, lazy eye or amblyopia may develop in one of the eyes and 3-D vision (stereopsis) may decrease. If surgery is done later in life, the eyes will appear straight but the vision may not improve.

Myth # 7 Large and blue eyes are beautiful and a gift from God.
Some children may have large and blue looking eyeballs. Though these may look more beautiful than normal ones, they can suggest an underlying eye disease such as glaucoma, a large cornea or a systemic disease. These diseases can affect the vision and even other body parts. Hence, this should not be neglected and the child should be examined early for any eye conditions.

Myth # 8 Watching television or working on computers may damage the eyesight of children.
This is not true. Sitting close to the TV will not damage the eyes; in fact sitting close to the TV may be indicative of an underlying refractive error. It may, however, lead to some muscle strain and watering after prolonged watching. Hence, one should watch the television or use the computer from an appropriate distance and take adequate breaks.

Myth # 9 Use of home remedies like lemon, honey, mother’s milk and some vegetable oils can cure the red eyes of my child.
This is not true. Each case of red eye has to be properly examined before coming to a proper diagnosis and the treatment must be instituted according to that disease. In fact, the use of honey and lemon may cause allergies and infection in the eyes. Therefore, it is best to consult an eye doctor and take appropriate treatment.

Myth # 10 Newborn babies do not get eye problems and do not need routine eye examinations.
Every newborn at birth should undergo an eye examination by torchlight and a red reflex test to detect serious eye problems. Every preterm baby should definitely undergo a retinal examination within 20-30 days of life, as serious problems can occur behind an apparently normal eye.

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