I am very excited to get to work with Dr. Neka Amato to bring useful information on eye health; especially our children's eye health. Dr. Neka grew up in Boulder County and is a proud Niwot High School graduate. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from CU Boulder and her Doctor of Optometry degree from Indiana University. Dr. Neka has been practicing optometry since 2009 and absolutely loves it! She opened her own private practice, Sight Eyecare, here in Longmont in 2015. She lives in Longmont with her husband and son.
Q- At what age should we get our children’s eyes checked for the first time?
A- Between 6-12 months. There is a program called “InfantSEE,” through which eye doctors who specialize in infant examinations perform this first eye exam for free. If you visit the website infantsee.org, you can view the list of “InfantSEE” providers in your area. I usually start seeing them at my office at age 4 (for what is usually their 2nd exam).
Q- How often should we get our children’s vision checked?
A- After that initial exam just before age 1, the next exam is recommended at age 4, then age 6, and then every year after that. This is assuming all findings are normal.
Q- At what age does our vision fully develop?
A- There is a “critical period” stage of visual development, which is generally accepted to be from birth to around age 7. During this period of time, a child develops the neural connections necessary for vision. For this reason, it is crucial that a child have an eye exam before age 7 (preferably much before age 7). Let’s say a 3 year old has his first eye exam and has a large prescription in just the right eye. With eyeglasses and patching of the left eye, there is a very good chance that the R eye will eventually learn to see very well (20/20). However, let’s pretend that same child didn’t have his first eye exam until age 9. That large prescription in that R eye would still be there, but the neural connections will not have formed properly during the “critical period,” making it likely impossible for that child to ever see 20/20 out of that eye, even with eyeglasses. This is termed “amblyopia” or “lazy eye.” This would compromise his depth perception as well. The same thing would occur if a significant congenital cataract (for example) went undetected for that many years.
Q- Are vision problems reversible?
A- It depends on the vision problem in question. For example, if a child needs eyeglasses for nearsightedness (in which distance vision is blurry without the glasses on), this is something that generally does not get better with time and is not reversible. There are a few conditions that can cause problems with the near focusing ability and therefore can create difficulty with reading/computer work, and these issues can sometimes be considered “reversible” or “fixed” via vision therapy with a qualified vision therapist. Some eye diseases can cause an irreversible loss of vision (for example, macular degeneration and glaucoma), though treatments can usually be performed that may prevent further permanent vision loss. Some eye diseases can cause vision loss that is then reversible with certain procedures/surgeries (for example, cataracts). So, it really is hard to give a great answer to this question, as it very much depends on the diagnosis.
Q- Can an eye exam help discover other health problems? If so, like what?
A- Yes, a comprehensive eye exam would evaluate the full health of the eyes. Childhood eye disease is rare, but very important to diagnose early. Such diseases include congenital cataracts, congenital glaucoma, retinal dystrophies, retinal malignancies, and more.
Q- What types of things can hurt our vision?
A- Excess exposure to the sun without proper protection over long periods of time can potentially lead to earlier-onset cataracts and/or macular degeneration. Hence, the importance of a good pair of sunglasses. Smoking has a link to cataracts and macular degeneration as well. There is some evidence that an excess amount of near/computer work at an early age could potentially contribute to nearsightedness earlier in life, and a need for full-time eyeglasses earlier in life. For this reason, it is best to limit screen time at an early age and encourage instead more time playing outdoors.
Q- What can be done to improve our vision?
A- Unfortunately, there are no vitamins or natural remedies that can make one’s vision better when there is a need for full-time eyeglass wear. However, limiting screen time in childhood and encouraging more play time outdoors may provide some benefit. If a child has a high amount of myopia (nearsightedness), there are some newer treatments available (termed “myopia control treatment”) that may possibly delay its progression (via use of multifocal contact lenses and certain prescription eye drops).
Q- If my child is non-verbal or has a disability can I still get their eyes checked accurately? Would I go to any eye Dr or would I need to reach out to a specialist?
A- There are different tools that an optometrist can use to determine if someone needs glasses, without any response from the patient. Also, the health check of the eyes would still be possible as well. Most general optometrists would likely be able to perform an exam on a non-verbal patient or one with disabilities, but it would be best to discuss this with the office before scheduling to ensure it is something the doctor is comfortable with.
Q- Are there any programs to help pay for eye exams; and glasses if needed, if you do not have insurance; and or, can not afford it?
A- The best option may be to apply to become a CO Medicaid recipient. Through CO Medicaid, an exam should be covered once/year for all ages. For those under 20, eyeglasses are also covered. If this is not an option, there are other programs that may be available in one’s area. For example, Denver Bronco Von Miller started a local charity several years ago called “Von’s Vision.” Through this wonderful program of his, complimentary eyecare and eyeglasses may be provided to children of lower income families in the Denver area.
Q- What are three things you want people; especially parents, to know about eye health?
- There is a “critical period” when visual cortical development takes place, and it occurs roughly during the first 7 years of life. For this reason, it is very important to have the first eye examination done very early in life.
- The “vision screening” done at a pediatrician’s office is not as thorough as a comprehensive eye exam performed by an eye doctor. I’ve seen children who have passed the screening with the pediatrician, but who actually really need glasses or even had something going on with the health of the eyes. I’ve also seen the reverse, in which a child failed the pediatrician’s vision screening, but saw me for an eye exam and passed.
- It is certainly possible to do an eye exam even with the child not being able to respond to “which is clearer, 1 or 2?” I have learned that a lot of parents assume that because their child is nonverbal or very shy, they cannot have a proper eye exam. This is not the case.
InfantSEE®, a public health program, managed by Optometry Cares® -The AOA Foundation, is designed to ensure that eye and vision care becomes an essential part of infant wellness care to improve a child's quality of life. Under this program, participating doctors of optometry provide a comprehensive infant eye assessment between 6 and 12 months of age free of charge regardless of family income or access to insurance coverage
The mission of Von's Vision is to provide low-income Denver children with the eye care and corrective eyewear they need to be their best in the classroom and in life.
Address: 1610 Pace Street, Unit 600 Longmont, CO 80504
Phone Number: 720 204-6891