There are several factors that have a direct impact on our wellbeing. In fact, our wellbeing in itself can be classified into different types: Physical, Mental, and Emotional wellbeing. Children are very malleable and more prone to be mentally and emotionally affected by remarks made by their parents or adults whom they look up to. Here, I’ll touch upon the need for eyeglasses amongst children and any impact it may have on their wellbeing if misunderstood.
Please note: This post contains advice arising from my own practical experience, observations, and opinions as an Optometrist and postgrad researcher.
The aim is to go to the core of the issue and attempt to explain a few misconceptions people have about eyeglasses, the reason why they are needed, and mention any practical tips which may help. Time and time again, I have seen parents worried about their children’s ocular health and their need or potential need for glasses. There is great fear, more so, from the parents than from the child when visiting an eye doctor. And undoubtedly, if children are brought up with negative feelings associated with wearing glasses, it can have a lasting effect on their emotional and mental wellbeing. Consequently, this could lead to low self-esteem issues. So let me get to the point. In this post eyeglasses, spectacles and glasses will be used interchangeably.
Firstly, let’s clarify what spectacles are and the common misconception that if an individual starts wearing glasses, people erroneously believe that they will become dependent on them. Glasses are simply medical devices made of plastic lenses with a specific power to help you see better. Glasses do not alter your eyes, and wearing them don’t make you dependent on them. They are tools to help you see better, and if you remove them, you simply don’t see as well until you wear them again.
With regards to glasses, people are either short-sighted (Myopic) or long-sighted(Hyperopic). So,
- A child’s vision may be blurry at the distance, meaning they are short-sighted, and you’ll notice that the prescription is of a minus power (e.g. -1.25DS (Spherical power)) (they see well when holding books close to their eyes, but TV or the board at school may be blurry)
- Or a child may have blurry vision for reading and see well at distance, meaning they are long-sighted and the prescription is usually of a positive power (e.g. +1.25DS(Spherical power)). However, some children are given glasses despite seeing well at both distance and near- these are to help with focusing and balancing issues. Hence, they should wear them. In this case, children may eventually grow out of needing glasses.
- In some cases you may find ‘DC’ (e.g. -1.75DS /-1.50DC X 180) in the prescription, which refers to a cylindrical power at a specific axis along with the spherical power. And this is usually called astigmatism. It only means that the front of the eyeball is slightly steeper on one particular axis. (Please note that these prescriptions have been written in the UK format)
When a child is growing, their eyes also grow and sometimes this leads to the need for refractive power. Hence, as the growth spurt happens or during puberty, teens are likely to need slightly stronger glasses. And this change is not due to the fact that the children are damaging their eyes by wearing the glasses, but simply because they are growing.
Children should ideally have their eyes checked/tested before starting school as the inability to see could have an impact on their academic performance. Such children are unable to achieve their highest potential which is unfortunate and this can thereafter have an impact on their mental wellbeing and lowering their self-esteem. This is especially the case if parents are constantly comparing the child to their peers. It must be noted that a child may not be aware that they have vision problems. For a child, their blurry vision may be ‘normal’ as they don’t know any better, therefore they are unlikely to complain to anyone. In fact, I know of someone who realized that this was the case with him all throughout primary school.
There are also a few signs and symptoms which could indicate potential vision problems. Those include:
- if a child is constantly blinking a lot.
- Experiencing headaches which begin during the day after visually demanding tasks and usually, these headaches are frontal – they are experienced on the forehead.
- In younger children, we may sometimes notice a head turn when they watch TV or when they are engaged in certain activities. These also indicate that it could be time for a sight test.
- Although getting close to the TV isn’t always a sign in itself, it may be an indicator in some cases, especially if the child also brings books very close to their face when reading or writing.
- Very often, the need for spectacles and the nature of the power needed is linked with the family history, i.e. if the parents wear glasses, the children can potentially need them too.
As far as those who are already wearing glasses are concerned, if the child is short-sighted, spending more time outdoors could help slow down the progression of the refractive power needed (This research study and this one expound on this statement). Here’s my logic based on clinical knowledge: When we spend a lot of time indoors, reading, etc, the demand on our eyes to focus at short distances increases, hence reducing our ability to see afar because there is no need (according to our visual system). Hence, when we spend more time outside, our eyes re-adapt to seeing further away. This probably explains why a couple of decades back, less people needed glasses than in our current times. Nowadays, most of our visual needs are for indoor activities. Bringing a change to this habit could help. There are also specifically designed contact lenses that may help reduce the progression of Myopia in children, so please don’t hesitate to ask your eye care practitioner about it. And if a child has proper hygiene and is responsible enough, they are absolutely ready for contact lenses, given that their eyes are suitable for wear. Children as young as 8 years of age can be eligible for contact lenses.
I wrote this post to raise awareness about spectacle wear, being fully aware that a lot of information is readily available on the internet. However, the above contains professional optometric advice, with emphasis on the wellbeing of children. Sometimes subtle conditioning or unintentionally conveying our displeasure towards visual needs could lead to more serious consequences later in life.
The bottom line is: Glasses are tools, when prescribed properly, they cannot damage the eyes and there is nothing wrong if a child must wear them. And avoiding instances whereby we condition children against spectacles would be mostly beneficial.
PS: This post contains professional guidance, and in case of doubt about any ocular conditions, please don’t hesitate to seek optometric and medical advice in your area.
PPS: Due to the context, no joke was included in this post … but if you didn’t enjoy the post, the joke’s on me!:)