Doctor's Orders: Following the Eye Doctor's Directions

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Regardless of your child's eye condition, she'll need to be seen periodically by her eye care specialist—an ophthalmologist or optometrist—whether it's to monitor changes in her condition or simply to make sure that her eyes remain healthy. The doctor will typically let you know when to return for the next eye exam.

Depending on your child's eye condition, her eye care specialist may prescribe some kind of treatment or routine to be carried out at home—perhaps eye drops or ointment, vitamins, or other medication for your child to take. Be sure you understand why your child has been asked to follow this regimen, what results you might expect from it, and what might happen if it is not followed.

Treatments that are often prescribed, particularly for young children under the age of seven, include wearing an eye patch for specified periods of time or using eye drops. These treatment programs are often used as a way to block a child's stronger eye in order to strengthen her weaker eye when she has a condition such as amblyopia. It's important to follow the doctor's instructions regarding treatment programs that can improve your child's vision. But getting young children to comply with any kind of medical treatment can often be a challenge, as any parent knows who has ever tried to get a child to swallow an antibiotic or hold still for a routine immunization. Likewise, if your child is not prepared for the eye patch or eye drops, she may resist this unfamiliar experience. Some children may also object to having their vision temporarily reduced.

To make it easier for you and your child to stick to this kind of treatment program, create a routine for your child so that she knows ahead of time what will be happening. Because she may not always see what you are doing due to her limited vision, avoid startling her by making sure she knows when you are going to touch her eye.

Here are some additional suggestions that might help make your child's treatment program easier for her and more successful overall. Try the ones that seem appropriate for her age and ability level.

  • Involve your child in preparing for the patching or eye drops by helping you to get the items you need from a designated place, open the patch wrapper or eye drop bottle (if appropriate), and bring the patch or dropper to her eye using hand-under-hand or hand-over-hand technique.
  • Try to schedule the patching or eye drops at a time when your child can take part in some favorite activity like snacking or building blocks. If she is doing something she enjoys, she is less likely to fight the reduction in her vision.
  • Set a timer when she starts wearing her patch or getting the drops in her eye. Let her be the one to remove the patch when the timer goes off.
  • Set up a reward program for your child based on her wearing her patch or not making a fuss about getting the eye drops. For example, for each time she follows the rules you have set, she can earn a token, star, or point. After she earns a certain number, she can get a reward—a special outing with you, a new toy, or time to do an activity she really enjoys.
  • Read your child books about other children who have to wear eye patches or have drops put in their eyes.
  • If your child is wearing an eye patch, let her decorate it by drawing on it. (Avoid gluing on items such as sequins or glitter that may get in her eye.) She may enjoy looking at herself in the mirror with her colorful patch over her eye.

Being consistent and firm and knowing your child are key factors in helping her follow a routine she might prefer to avoid. Your child's early interventionist or teacher of students with visual impairments can also help you in evaluating your child's situation and offer suggestions on how you can more easily follow your doctor's prescribed directions.

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