By Susan Hodara

Eye Care Alert

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How often do we take that most precious gift, our eyes - and our children's eyes - for granted? Yet our children's eyes, more often than our own, are subject to several common eye conditions.

Pinkeye, otherwise known as either bacterial or viral conjunctivitis, is a highly contagious condition characterized by red, swollen, itchy eyes which produce a clear or yellowish discharge. It can be effectively treated by applying warm compresses, along with an antibiotic ointment or drops. Viral conjunctivitis can take from 14 to 21 days to clear up. It is important not to touch the infected eye, and not to cover it. Since it is easily spread, it is a good idea to wash hands often during the period of infection.

Eye injuries are another potential danger, especially as a result of sports-related activities such as baseball or basketball, where the eye receives a blunt trauma from a ball or stick. These types of injuries can damage the cornea, or may cause tearing of the iris or rupture of the sclera (the white part of the eye). In severe cases, permanent blindness can result. To ensure maximum safety, children should wear protective sports glasses made of polycarbonate lenses, and they should utilize appropriate safety equipment such as helmets and goggles.

Two common conditions can result in amblyopia, or poor vision. Crossed eyes or a difference in eye strength in young children can cause long-term vision loss if left untreated. These conditions should be addressed before the child reaches eight years of age. Strabismus, which is a misalignment of the eyes in which the eye can turn in, out, up or down, can be treated through early detection with either eye-patching or glasses, which usually restores full, normal vision.

Says Richard Witlin, M.D., F.A.C.S., and medical director of Omni Eye Services, which provides diagnostic and surgical procedures in New York City and around the metropolitan area: "Timely vision and eye health examinations are vital for early detection and treatment of eye problems in children."

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