Every mother ought to know something about the care of children's eyes. Defective eyesight, which is so common in this generation, is largely the result of ignorance in the past. Excessive study at school; faulty positions when reading and writing, bad light for work will all cause short-sight in after life.
Short-sight, contrary to the popular opinion, is not a hereditary affection. The young child is never short-sighted. Not until about the age of nine does the condition appear, and from then it becomes steadily worse unless it receives care and attention.
Fine sewing is a potent cause of short-sight in schoolgirls, and the fact that myopia (short-sight) is more marked among schoolgirls than boys denotes that their occupations and methods of education are more liable to affect their eyesight than are those of boys.
The sooner the condition is detected the better for the child. In the first place, the eyesight tends to become worse as time goes on, and blindness even may result from it in later life. At the least, a short-sighted person is handicapped greatly, 'and, in the case of boys, choice of occupation is greatly limited by defects of the eye.
Again, defect of vision is the cause of a great many ills in the nursery. Night terrors, headaches, and irritability of temper may all be caused by eye troubles. A child is often considered stupid when he is suffering from short-sight or some other defect in vision. Eye trouble will cause irritability or so-called "temper" in young children; and many a difficult, awkward boy or girl might be converted into a happy, light-hearted child by attention to his eyesight and the provision of suitable glasses. Although short-sight is the commonest defect, astigmatism, and what may be called weak sight frequently occur in the nursery.
Headache is a common symptom. The child is unable to do his lessons with any pleasure because of the strain on his eyes.
It is important also to observe whether, when a child reads, he holds the paper at a natural distance and at a normal angle, or whether he looks sideways or holds the book very near his face.
Medical inspection of schools will do much to ensure that defective eyesight in children will be attended to. At the same time, however, it is important for mothers to know the signs of eye trouble, so that they may intelligently co-operate with the family doctor.
Medical inspection is not yet compulsory in the better class schools, hence, through ignorance on the part of the mother, schoolboys and girls may suffer from defective sight for years and have any resulting ill-health attributed to quite wrong causes.
Whenever there is any suspicion that a child's vision is not absolutely normal he should be taken to an oculist at once. The exact degree of a child's long-sight or astigmatism must be determined by an eye specialist, who will order suitable glasses.
Afterwards it is the part of the mother to attend to the child's general health, because all eye troubles are affected by the state of the health. In the case of marked short-sight it may be necessary to take the child away from school for six months, to prevent the eyes from being used for close study. The short-sighted child must be trained in distant vision and allowed no strain for near vision, such as reading, writing, or sewing.
The one essential thing is to cure the condition before it has developed to any extent. Then, as the child is later allowed to use his eyes again, several points must receive attention.
1. He must always read or write in a good light. He should be provided with a desk and seat suitable to his size, so that he can write easily without bending almost double over his work. The light should come over the left shoulder from behind.
2. The eyes should only be used for a definite time, and intervals of rest must be prescribed. The child, of course, must not use his eyes in artificial light.
3. Plenty of sleep is very necessary to a child with weak eyes, as it is only during sleep that the eyes are absolutely at rest.
These remarks really apply to all forms of eye weakness. Sometimes the child has no "error of refraction" such as short-sight, long-sight, or astigmatism, but he may suffer from general weakness of eyesight. The eyes become easily tired, they are inclined to water, and the lids are tinged with pink. Great improvement' will take place if the above rules are adhered to.
Redness of the eyelids may be only an evidence of weak sight, but may also indicate an error of refraction, and will thus be cured by suitable glasses. A very common cause of redness and stickiness of the lids is the chronic inflammation of the fine transparent membrane which lines the eyelids and covers the ball.
In slight cases, careful washing of the eyes twice a day with boracic solution, in the strength of a teaspoonful of boracic powder to half a pint of warm water, and the application of a little boracic ointment along the eyelids will affect a cure.
In a severe case "yellow ointment" should be used, rubbing a little along the lids with the finger after washing with boracic solution.
A sponge or flannel should never be used to wash the eyes. A clean linen rag or cotton-wool, which must afterwards be burnt, is the right thing to use.
Blepharitis should never be neglected, and it is, moreover, very unsightly, as the lashes tend to come out, and the lids are more or less constantly pink and weak-looking.
Ophthalmia is an acute infectious inflammation of the membrane covering the eye and lining the lids. It is sometimes troublesome in the nursery, and the use of a common towel may spread the infection.
In dealing with this condition, it is important that any discharge should be washed away. After this has been done, the application of " yellow ointment " will be found to be beneficial.
In severe cases a doctor must be consulted, as there is danger, if the complaint be neglected, that the eye structures may ulcerate and the sight be affected. Precaution against infection must be taken by making a child use his own towel and keeping his hands and face scrupulously clean.
Ophthalmia in infancy requires immediate attention by a competent person, as a very large number of cases of blindness in after life occur from neglect of this condition. The care of the infant's eyes will be considered in a series of articles dealing with the young infant.