Researchers in Southampton have discovered children who suffer from eye movement disorder nystagmus – known as ‘wobbly eye’ – struggle to recognise faces but not other objects.
It is hoped the novel finding, which was made following a study led by consultant paediatric ophthalmologist Jay Self and his team at Southampton Children’s Hospital, will lead to the development of more accurate diagnostic tests and better support for patients.
Nystagmus causes the eyes to ‘wobble’ and creates strobe vision, which makes it difficult to see moving objects, recognise familiar faces or perform everyday activities such as playing with toys and friends.
Although the condition, which affects around one in 1,500 people in the UK, can develop in later life, it is more commonly found in babies and young children – known as congenital nystagmus – and can be caused by many different underlying conditions.
The study, carried out by medical student Shinn Tan, in collaboration with the psychology team at the University of Southampton and clinicians in Cardiff and Plymouth, compared how children with and without nystagmus look at faces using an innovative infrared eye-tracking device.
Children were shown two different images on a computer screen at the same time while the Eyelink 1000 Plus analyser used infrared light reflected from the cornea of their eye to measure the time spent looking at each image.
When presented with a black and white checkerboard pattern and a plain grey panel, all children spent longer looking at the distinctive checkerboard and seemed to identify it very quickly – as expected by the clinicians.
However, when shown photos of their own mother’s face and that of another woman, children without nystagmus spent longer looking at their mother and found their face very quickly, while those with the condition looked at both faces for the same length of time and seemed to struggle to identify their own mother’s face.
“Nystagmus is an extremely complicated condition, therefore, testing and diagnosing it has proved very challenging, so we are constantly looking for ways to improve and enhance methods of diagnosis, as well as increase the support available to patients,” explained Mr Self, who is associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Southampton.
“These results indicate that children with nystagmus may have specific difficulty recognising faces or adopt different ways of looking at faces – something that’s rarely detected by standard eye tests.”
He added: “The findings could provide the basis of a more accurate diagnosis of nystagmus severity and measure of the efficacy of trial treatments, as well as improved social support and understanding for patients.”
Children may not be interested in the fashion aspect of sunglasses, but given that kids spend much more time outdoors than most adults, sunglasses that block 100 percent of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays are an important consideration.
In fact, according to some experts, up to half of a person’s lifetime exposure to UV radiation can occur by age 18. (Other research cited by The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests the amount of lifetime exposure to UV radiation sustained by age 18 is less than 25 percent.)
Given that excessive lifetime exposure to UV radiation has been linked to the development of cataracts and other eye problems, it’s never too early for kids to begin wearing good quality sunglasses outdoors.
Children’s eyes are more susceptible to UV and HEV radiation than adult eyes because the lens inside a child’s eye is less capable of filtering these high-energy rays. This is especially true for young children, so it’s wise for kids to start wearing protective sunglasses outdoors as early in life as possible.
It is also important to consider that your child’s exposure to UV rays increases at high altitudes, in tropical regions and in highly reflective environments (such as in a snowfield, on the water or on a sandy beach). Protective sun wear is especially important for kids in these situations.
Choosing sunglass lens colours
The level of UV protection that sunglasses provide is not related to the colour of the lenses.
As long as your optician certifies that the lenses block 100 percent of the sun’s UV rays, the choice of colour and tint density is a matter of personal preference.
Most sunglass lenses that block the sun’s HEV rays are amber or copper in colour. By blocking blue light, these lenses also enhance contrast, a positive feature for outdoor sports and cycling.
Sunglass styles for children
Colourful, adolescent frame styles are still available, but sunglass companies have found a niche in appealing to children’s desire to look like their parents or older siblings.
Oval, round, rectangular, cat-eye and geometric shapes are all popular in cool, sophisticated colours like green, blue, tortoise and black. Metal frames are very popular, but so are plastic sunglass frames that look like scaled-down versions of trendy adult styles. Also, sporty styles for kids like wraparounds are available in miniature adult editions.
Where to buy kids’ sunglasses
The best places to find kids’ sunglasses or obtain advice regarding them, are sunglass specialty stores like your local optician or optical shop.
Some opticians even specialise in children’s sunglasses and eyeglasses and have dedicated areas just for kids to play and shop for their frames.
Wherever you go, look for a good selection of sunglass frames scaled specifically for a child’s facial dimensions and a professional staff experienced in fitting children’s eyewear.