It happened a few years ago when my eldest daughter turned eight. But I had an excuse...it had been a chaotic year for my family because we had just moved from Calgary to Toronto. Settling into a new city, a new home, and making new friends made it easy for something like this to slip through the cracks.
She first started to complain about headaches at school. I thought it was just the new school blues and tried to help her through it but it went on for weeks. Then one day she told me she was glad to have been moved to the front of the classroom, because it made reading the SMART board easier. That’s when the light bulb finally went off in my head.
It shouldn’t have taken me this long to figure it out – both my husband and I wear glasses. I wore glasses all through middle school and contact lenses in high school. This is why I was surprised it took me so long to spot the problem. My 8-year-old was having trouble seeing in class, and since she was squinting to read the board, most days, she ended up with headaches.
So off we went to a local doctor of optometry. I was fully expecting to come away with a prescription for glasses for my little baby, and we did, but that’s not all that happened that day.
Let me back up a little bit. My husband and I grew up in India. We visited a doctor only if there was a problem...a cavity, a broken leg, or a gash on the chin all warranted a visit to the doctor. Proactive visits or even checkups with doctors were unusual. Since we moved to Canada, we’ve changed our approach to healthcare – for our kids and ourselves. Regular checkups have become an important part of maintaining our long-term health, and that includes comprehensive eye exams. I learned this lesson the day we visited the optometrist.
My daughter was diagnosed with a lazy eye and the resulting double vision was the cause of her headaches. With her other eye over-compensating to focus, school was turning out to be quite a challenge.
A lazy eye – or amblyopia – refers to when vision in one eye is reduced because the eyes and brain are not working together properly. The result is a decrease in fine vision/sharpness.
Because my daughter’s lazy eye was so slight, it wasn’t obvious to the casual observer. If it hadn’t been for her eye exam, she may have gone undiagnosed for far too long.
Luckily, for my daughter, there was a solution. As we came to learn, early identification and treatment of vision problems is very important because children are often more responsive to treatment when they're younger. Depending on each child’s condition, that treatment may include eye glasses, vision therapy, patches, or even surgery.
In our case, the doctor customized a program for my daughter that was a combination of in-office and at-home vision therapy. Over the next 8-months, she did regular eye exercises and worked through the requirements of the vision therapy.
My daughter is turning 11 in a few months and we just had a follow-up appointment with our optometrist. She now has 20/20 vision and has not had a headache in months. The doctor has also recommended wearing low-prescription reading glasses if she happens to be reading late into the night, as it helps relax her eyes at the end of the day.
My youngest, who is 5-years old and just started Grade 1, recently mentioned that she is seeing "rainbows."
“How pretty!” I said.
“But I see them only at night, Mom, around the streetlights.”
The light bulb went off in my head again. Through the experience with my eldest, I now know that many children accept their vision as normal because they don’t know any different. And since eighty per cent of a child’s learning is based on vision, I know that I need to stay on top of this.
A visit to the optometrist for an eye health exam has already diagnosed her with a slight astigmatism, a condition that doesn’t impact her vision...yet. She did get her own pair of low-prescription reading glasses to help relax her eyes when reading at bedtime. If she follows her sister's footsteps (as she does with so many other things!) I know what’s coming next. But the good thing is that I'll be prepared.