If you need to wear glasses or contact lenses to help you see clearly, you will probably have found out by now, be wearing them already and having regular check-ups. But even if your vision is absolutely fine, eyes do develop and change and it is important to have regular eye tests at an opticians. NHS-funded eye tests are free to under-16s and under-19s in full-time education in the UK, and it is a good idea to have one every two years to make sure your eyes are healthy.
As well as regular check-ups, you need to see an optician if you:
- notice changes in the way you see colour
- experience problems with glare from lights or the sun
- notice halos around lights
- see a white or cloudy spot in the black pupil
- have trouble seeing things to your side
- often lose your place while reading
- have frequent headaches and rub your eyes a lot
- find close work (such as sewing) difficult
- find yourself holding reading material closer to your eyes than usual
- often have red, sore or irritated eyes
Do not worry unduly if any of these affect you – ask your parent/carer to make an optician’s appointment for you and get your eyes checked as soon as you can.
If you find you do need to wear glasses, there is a wide range of stylish, good-looking frames available and a dispensing optician will help you find a pair that fits properly, looks great and gives you the best vision possible. If you play a lot of sport or would prefer not to wear glasses, you can opt to wear contact lenses.
Just as you need to protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, it is important to protect your eyes. Prolonged exposure to UV light can cause eye problems and although it is unusual for young people to develop eye conditions caused by the sun, make sure you wear sunglasses and a sun hat to shade your eyes when you’re out and about in strong sunlight.
Choose sunglasses that block 99–100% of UV rays (some glasses say ‘UV absorption up to 400nm’ which is the same thing) and screen 75–90% of visible light. Make sure the lenses are a uniform colour and have no scratches or other imperfections.
Remember never EVER look directly at the sun, even when wearing sunglasses.
Common eye conditions
- Conjunctivitis – the transparent membrane that covers your eyes (the conjunctiva) can become inflamed and uncomfortable (itchy, sore, gritty). It can occur in all ages and can be an infection or a reaction to chemicals (such as make-up) or other irritants (like pollen). Make sure you wash your hands frequently, especially after touching your eyes, to stop the infection spreading, and carefully wipe away any discharge with cotton wool soaked in warm water. It usually clears up after a few days but if it doesn’t, speak to a pharmacist or see your GP. You may need prescribed medication (eye drops or ointment).
- Red eye – a red eye (when the white of the eye becomes bloodshot) can be alarming but it is usually caused by a burst blood vessel or a minor infection, such as conjunctivitis, and is not painful. It usually clears up within a few days. However, if it is painful, see your GP. If you have injured your eye or if you have other symptoms, such as problems with your eyesight, a headache or sickness, go to your nearest A&E immediately.
- Styes – a stye is a small, painful lump on the outside of the eyelid (or just inside) usually caused by an infection of staphylococcus bacteria (which can live on our skin without causing us any harm) in the root of an eyelash. Styes often get better within a couple of weeks without treatment. NEVER try to burst the stye. Gently hold a warm compress (a cloth, flannel or cotton-wool pad warmed with hot, but not too hot, water) over the affected eye for about five minutes. Repeat this three or four times a day until the stye clears up or releases some pus. Keep the area around your eye clean and free from crusting. If your stye is very painful, over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help ease the pain. (Always read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the medication is suitable for you and that you take the correct dose.) See your GP if you have a very painful stye that doesn’t ease after a week.