I often find that when I tell parents to start taking their children to the eye care specialist, the advice is not followed. Even at the 3 year well visit when I suggest a free screening, so I know it isn't always about the cost. We are all busy. I get that. But our eyes are important, and many pediatric eye conditions have much better outcomes if addressed early.
I was excited to see an article, No Child Too Young for Eye Exam in Pediatric News, thinking posting it would help parents. But after reading it, it was a bit technical, and written for physicians. So I thought I'd break it down and explain why eye checks by an eye care specialist is so much more than a vision screen at school or the doctor's office. (I have stopped recommending vision screenings in my office - though they are still offered- because if insurance limits to only one screen per year, I want it done by someone who looks at the entire eye. See the second scenario in Middle Man Payment Plan for more.)
First, what do I mean by seeing an eye care specialist? Eye care specialists include Ophthalmologists and Optometrists. Ophthalmologists are physicians who went to medical school to obtain an MD (Medical Degree) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy) degree and then did their residency in opthalmology. They can do eye exams as well as treat problems medically or surgically. Optometrists go to school specifically to diagnose and treat eye conditions. Their degree is OD (Optometry Degree). They focus on routine eye care and vision correction. Both of these specialists can have specific areas of expertise and may or may not treat kids, so always be sure they have experience with kids the ages of your children.
In the article referenced above, Dr Sherry Boschert discusses myths of eye problems in children. These myths:
1. My child is too young for an eye exam. Not true. Ophthalmologists are routinely consulted in the Newborn ICU to see newborns for various eye concerns. Thankfully they don't have to be able to tell if view #1 or #2 looks better... even at my age, this is very difficult! Eye doctors can be specially trained to evaluate a newborn's eyes adequately.
2. Tearing must be due to a blocked tear duct. Many infants have blocked tear ducts, which causes the eye to water often. Since it is so common, it is most likely that your child with a tearing eye has a blocked tear duct. But... if it comes with pain or light sensitivity there might be more going on like a scratch on the eyeball or increased pressure within the eye.
What is a blocked tear duct? Just as it sounds, the tube that drains tears from the eyes into your nose become blocked. Tears are made in glands in the eyelid, cross the eye to moisturize it, then drain into the nose. With the drainage tube blocked, tears well up in the eye and it looks like the eye is crying. Usually this self-resolves by about 9 months of age, and parents can help by massing the area of the tube several times/day. It can lead to matting and drainage from the eye, but without redness or pain does not require any other treatment the first 9 months of life. If it persists longer or if it leads to a discolored swelling below the eye we refer to an ophthalmologist (eye surgeon) for treatment.
Corneal abrasion is the medical term for scratch on the eyeball. How does this happen? Babies keep their hands near their face often and can get a fingernail in the eye accidentally. Often parents do not know what happened, but baby suddenly cries uncontrollably and won't open the eye. Older kids might be able to tell you that something went in their eye or they simply complain their eye hurts. They might have one area of redness (as opposed to pink eye where the entire eyeball is red). These scratches can be seen in our office with the help of special dye and a black light (Kids think this is pretty cool!) and are treated with antibiotic eye drops and close follow up. Severe trauma should be seen by an ophthalmologist.
Glaucoma is not common in babies and children, but it is something that needs to be treated emergently by a pediatric eye surgeon (ophthalmologist). These babies appear to have beautiful big eyes, but they are caused by increased pressure within the eye. This pressure must be released to avoid permanent vision damage and treat the associated pain.
3. All red eyes are contagious. Red eyes can be from viruses and bacteria (the reason schools/daycares kick kids out at the first sign of a red and/or goopey eye), but they can really be from many causes:
- viral conjunctivitis = pink eye from a virus. This is typically red and watery, but no mucus discharge. It usually comes with other typical "cold" symptoms. It is contagious, but like all viruses, no antibiotics help.
- bacterial conjunctivitis = pink eye from a bacteria. These eyes are red with yellow discharge. Antibiotic eye drops do help contain this from spreading as well as treat the infection.
- allergic conjunctivitis = pink eye from allergies - typically itchy and watery, sometimes red eyes and sometimes a very thin mucus discharge occurs. A careful look at the inner eyelids will show small bumps. These can be treated with typical oral allergy medications or eye drops for allergies (available OTC). Eye doctors will use steroid eye drops for very bad cases, but these should be used with the direction of eye specialists who can check eye pressures to follow potential side effects.
- other illnesses - I commonly see reddened eyes with "sick" kids (Strep throat, upper respiratory infections, etc) who don't meet criteria for a true conjunctivitis.
- irritants - shampoo, smoke, chlorine, or other things entering the eye can irritate it and cause it to temporarily look red. Many of these require a flush of the eye. If pain or redness persists, they eye should be completely evaluated to be sure there is no damage to the eye surface.
- foreign bodies in the eye - sand, eyelashes, and other objects can irritate the eye. If unable to remove them safely at home, the primary care provider can help. If pain persists after removal or if they eye remains red more than 6-8 hours after removal, the PCP should evaluate for infection or abrasion.
- stye - These are bumps in the eyelid, near the eyelashes. If they are deeper within the lid they are called chalazions. They don't usually cause the eye to look red (except the bump itself) but I include it here because I see many kids for "pink eye" diagnosed at daycare, that have no pink eye, just a stye. These can be helped with a warm compresses. I do not feel these need antibiotics or eye drops but the author mentions those as a treatment option. If they grow large enough to cover the pupil or if they last longer than 3 months, an ophthalmologist might need to remove them.
- tired kids often have red eyes, usually parents notice this pattern
- injury - see corneal abrasion above
- sunburn - yes, the eyes can suffer sun damage just like your skin. Wearing sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection and wide-rimmed hats can help prevent this (as well as cataracts, macular degeneration, and other issues). If blistering or severe pain, these should be evaluated by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.
- hemorrhage = bleeding within the eye. This can be common after birth or with coughing or vomiting due to sudden increased pressure within the eye. They self resolve.
- episcleritis = inflammation of part of the eye covering. The white of the eye can look pink or purple, the eye hurts and is sensitive to light, and it may tear. It typically self-resolves, but an eye specialist can help with the diagnosis.
- pinguecula and pterygium = small growths on the surface of the eye from various causes. An eye specialist can help with diagnosis and management, though typically no treatment is needed.
|photo source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Heterochromia_Blue_Orange.png|