This is probably the eye infection you’ll be most familiar with, in your tot and in yourself. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the conjunctiva – the transparent membrane that covers the white part of the eyeball and the inner surfaces of the eyelids. Infective conjunctivitis, caused by a virus or bacteria, is very common in children. Eyes will appear red and watery and you’ll notice a sticky coating on the eyelashes.
Ken Nischal, consultant ophthalmologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, advises: “If your child’s eyes are a little bit sticky and red, it’s worth just cleaning them with cooled boiled water and cotton wool for the first day. If, the next morning, they’re stuck down again, then it’s best to head to the GP in case you need to get antibiotics.
You should also go to the doctor if the eyelids are swollen or if the eyes are bright red rather than pink. A baby of two weeks old or under should be taken straight to the doctor if he or she gets sticky eyes.”
A squint is a condition where one eye turns inwards, outwards, upwards or downwards while the other looks forward. Squints are very common, affecting about one in 20 children and usually develop during the first three years.
“The most common squint is when the eye turns in,” says Ken. “The first thing I check is whether the child’s vision is the same in both eyes. If not, and the child has developed a lazy eye (where one eye closes slightly, also known as amblyopia), then this needs to be corrected by using either an eye patch or drops.”
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3) Styes and chalazions
A stye develops as a result of an infected eyelash follicle and appears as a redness or pimple at the base of the lash. Whereas a chalazion is a cyst on the eyelid caused by a blocked gland. “Parents often mistake a chalazion for a stye,” says Ken. “But a chalazion needs antibiotics for it to clear up and a stye will usually go on its own if you treat it with a warm compress or pull the lash out.”
“There are two main reason why a child’s eyes might twitch,” explains Ken. “It could be that the eyes are dry and they’re trying to squeeze more tears out or it could be that they have allergic eye disease.” With dry eyes, the inflammation of the lids is treated and the eyes lubricated. Allergic eye disease can also be treated with drops.
5) Eye injuries
Running around can mean lots of injuries, and sadly eyes aren’t exempt. Common toddler complaints include scratching the cornea or getting a foreign body stuck under the eyelid. More serious injuries include something, such as grit, penetrating the eye. If this happens, you’ll notice that the shape of the pupil has changed.
Tots can also do damage to the orbit (fat tissue surrounding the eyeball) of the eye if, for example, a ball hits them hard. In this case, the eye will look sunken or won’t move properly. Go straight to A&E if you’re worried about any injury.
Eye tests aren’t standard for children before they go to school. But you can watch out for problems and get your tot’s eyesight tested if you’re worried.
“There are two main ways to assess sight in young children,” says Ken. “One test parents can do themselves is to cover one of the child’s eyes and show him a toy. If he looks happily at it with one eye covered but gets upset when asked to look at it with the other eye, it can mean that his vision isn’t equal in both eyes. This test can be done from about four months old. The other method for children who can’t speak yet is to use cards with images on them. These images are either at the top or bottom of the card. You then hold the card up to the child and watch to see whether his eyes flick up or down to look at it. If they can talk ask them to name the images.”
“I’m very short-sighted so when I gave birth to Finlay, I was worried he would be the same. We eventually had him tested at 10 months old. Pictures were held in front of him to see how well he could focus. The results were worrying enough for us to be referred to an eye specialist and he was diagnosed with short sight.
It really hit home just weeks later on his first birthday. As we handed him a card, I cried as I watched him hold it as close as possible to his face so he could see it. Not long after, Finlay got his first pair of glasses. I was worried how he’d get on, but he loved them. For the first time in his life, he could see all sorts of things. I remember taking him to the park and it was lovely to watch his face when he spotted the ducks as I realised he’d never reacted to them. He’s never once tried to take the glasses off, which proves how happy he is to have them.
Now, we see the specialist every six months – they dilate his pupils so they can see the back of his eye. This tests how good or bad his vision is. At the moment, his eyes are getting worse but I’m just relieved it doesn’t bother him.”
Nuria Zorrilla, 38, from Berkhamsted, mum to Finlay, 3, and Rafael, 16 weeks
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Tears contain one of the most antiseptic substances known – lysozyme. It’s also found in blood, saliva and mucus.
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