Back to school: how to recognize pink eye

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Summer break is coming to an end signaling the start of another school year. Your child will soon be immersed into the classroom sharing ideas, books, each other’s lunches and much more. One of the things that you definitely do not want your child to catch or to pass on to others is pink eye. Yes, pink eye!

What is pink eye, you might ask?

Pink eye is a highly contagious, viral infection that usually follows an upper respiratory infection. It can be spread by through direct contact with an infected individual. Similar to the flu, antibacterial medications are typically ineffective against a virus. Therefore, it typically takes a good two to three weeks for your body and eye to fight off the infection.

So how would your child feel if he or she were to develop a pink eye?

First and foremost, your child will complain about watering and irritation in one eye. He or she may experience a gritty, foreign-body like sensation. Some may feel feverish as well. One of the golden rules is that pink eye always starts in one eye and then goes on to involve the other eye.

So how do you tell if it’s pink eye?

One of the troubling things to an undiscriminating parent is how to distinguish a pink eye from a red eye due to a bacterial infection or allergies. Because these conditions can look quite similar, it is best to take your child to an optometrist for a definitive diagnosis. Better yet, keep your child healthy by eating right, getting adequate rest and washing or sanitizing his or her hands often.

~ Judy Tong, O.D., F.A.A.O.
California Optometric Association



How old is old enough for contacts?

Photo courtesy of Valley Eyecare Center

Photo courtesy of Valley Eyecare Center

In our last blog, Dr. Melissa Barnett shared some great ways to help children wear their glasses. These excellent points are sure to help increase glasses wear, but there is a good chance that the day will come when your child will decide to hit you up for contacts.

At what age is it appropriate to consider contacts?

Well, in our practice, age is nothing but a number. What really counts is the maturity of the child (i.e. personal hygiene), the willingness of the parent to play a supporting role and the child’s needs. As such, your optometrist might ask you and your child a few questions to help make that determination. For example, we might ask if the kid is mature enough to brush their teeth without being asked. Or, if he or she is good about keeping their room clean without being asked. Hey, I know what you are thinking, this probably rules out 95 percent of kids (and adults) but we have to start somewhere.

Why might my child need contacts?

New studies show that measures of self-esteem increase significantly in contact lens wearing teens and children. Additionally, a number of contacts lens brands offer ultraviolet (UV) protection. While I always encourage children to wear sunglasses, any form of UV protection is welcome, as UV exposure is known to cause certain eye diseases like cataracts and macular degeneration. We also have to consider if the child plays sports. Contacts are great at improving peripheral vision and image stability and one can imagine what a difference contacts can make on an athlete’s performance.

Okay. What else do I need to know?

Once you have succumbed to your child’s incessant begging, you have to determine the safest and most fool-proof way to achieve a happy and safe experience with contacts. I can say firsthand, daily disposable contacts are almost always my first choice. My little brother started wearing contacts at 14 year old, and to be honest, I wasn’t sure he was ready so I started him with daily disposable lenses. As the name suggests, you chuck them on a daily basis. Thus, no solutions, no cleaning and fewer worries. The main concern we have is keeping our children from accidentally falling asleep in their lenses. Certainly, some children have prescriptions that are not available as daily disposables, but it is rare to find a young person who cannot be a contact lens wearer with a little work. In the end, contact lenses can be a safe and useful method for vision correction in children, provided that they follow the rules explained by their optometrists.

~ David C. Ardaya, O.D.
California Optometric Association

Back to school: my child needs glasses, but won’t wear them

A child needs many abilities to succeed in school and good vision is essential. It has been estimated that as much as 80 percent of the learning a child does occurs through his or her eyes. Children use their vision to read, write and use technology each day. When vision is not functioning properly, education and participation in sports can suffer.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Eye examinations are important for all children and adults, starting at six months of age. If your child has been prescribed glasses, it may be difficult to enforce your child to wear glasses. One fun saying referring to glasses is, “When they are not on your face, they’re in your case.” A few tips to help get your child to wear glasses

  1. Have your child wear glasses during enjoyable activities. They will be having so much fun that she will forget she is wearing them.
  2. Put the glasses on your child in the morning when your child is well rested and in a good mood.
  3. Be positive. The attitude of parents, grandparents and friends can influence a child more than you think. Make glasses “cool” for your child: point out pictures of sports stars or entertainers who wear glasses.
  4. Compliment your child for remembering to wear his glasses.
  5. Let your child select the frame. Select three or four different frames that are acceptable to you and then let the child pick the favorite.
  6. Make the glasses a part of the child’s daily routine.
  7. Advise your child’s teacher of when your child should wear glasses.
  8. Even better, keep a second pair of glasses at school.
  9. For sports, let your child select the frame and put the sports goggles in a bag with other sports equipment.
  10. If glasses are tight or uncomfortable, check the fit of the glasses. Stop by the optical shop if the frame loosens or becomes crooked (this may occur often in children).

Some good books about children wearing glasses Ages 3-5

  • Baby Duck and the Bad Eyeglasses, by Amy Hest (Candlewick Press)

Ages 5-8

  • Dogs Don’t Wear Glasses by Adrienne Geoghegan (Crocodile Books)
  • Libby’s New Glasses, by Tricia Tusa (Holiday House)
  • All the Better to See You With, by Margaret Wild (Whitman and Co)
  • X-Ray Mable and Her Magic Specs, by Claire Fletcher (Bodley Head)
  • The Arthur Books, by Marc Brown (Red Fox)
  • Glasses. Who needs ‘Em?, by Lane Smith (Viking)
  • Luna and the Big Blurr, by Shirley Day
  • Chuckie Visits the Eye Doctor by Luke David

Ages 8+

  • The Harry Potter Books, by JK Rowling (Bloomsbury)
  • Mom, I Need Glasses, by Angrliks Wolff (Lion Press)
  • The Eyes of Kid Midas, by Neal Shusterman (Little Brown and Company)

~ Melissa Barnett, OD, FAAO
California Optometric Association

Early detection of Alzheimer’s in the eyes

Recently, the healthcare community has been abuzz with recent breakthroughs in detecting Alzheimer’s disease in the eye and, potentially, by years earlier than current Alzheimer’s testing. Over the past few years, researchers at Cedars-Sinai have discovered that beta-amyloid plaques commonly found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients are readily apparent in the retinas of the eyes long before they appear in the brain. This means that patients can potentially be diagnosed and treated much earlier and before symptoms of memory loss appear.

The retinal test, called Retinal Amyloid Index, involves a digital retinal imaging device and an oral supplement called curcumin. Patients are given the curcumin supplement orally and subsequently had their retinas imaged. Curcumin binds to beta-amyloid protein and lights up when viewed with the retinal camera. Resulting retinal images in patients with Alzheimer’s displayed areas of lit bulbs throughout the retina. This test is able to differentiate between Alzheimer’s and non-Alzheimer’s patients with 100 percent sensitivity.

Photo by NeuroVision Imaging

Photo by NeuroVision Imaging

The test is still in development and may not be available in your eye doctor’s office for years. However, there are still options available for monitoring your retinal health.

Nowadays, many eye care providers take photos of your retinas. The retina is a very thin layer of tissue which lines the back wall of the eyes. It receives light, sending electrical signals to the brain to help us see. The retina also contains a vast network of nerves and blood vessels and is intimately connected to the brain. Looking at the retina, we can detect over 300 diseases of the eye and body. For this reason, we would want a baseline photo of the retina so that we can monitor for changes that may develop over time.

In Alzheimer’s disease, besides beta-amyloid plaques in the retina, we can also see changes in the optic nerve, thinning of the blood vessels and changes to the nerve fiber layer (which requires further imaging). Many of these changes mimic other more common eye diseases such as glaucoma or atherosclerotic changes which will need to be ruled out. Be sure to also let your optometrist know if you have a close relative with Alzheimer’s, or have other risk factors for Alzheimer’s such as atherosclerosis, previous head trauma, and poor health and exercise.

Up to now, retinal photos have not played a crucial role in detecting Alzheimer’s disease but I am hopeful that sometime soon, our annual comprehensive eye exams will play a much larger role in preserving the quality of life for these patients. Until then, we will continue to monitor for glaucoma, macular degeneration, high blood pressure, diabetes, and all other diseases that can present in the eyes. The saying goes that the eyes are the window to your soul. I believe that’s true, but it’s also the window to your health. Be sure to see your optometrist annually, a lot can happen in a year.


Cindy P. Wang, OD, FAAO

California Optometric Association