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Children with squinted eyes

There are various types of squints depending on the direction of the affected eye. A convergent squint occurs where the abnormal eye gazes inwards; a divergent squint occurs where the affected eye looks outwards towards the corner of the eye and a vertical squint occurs where one eye gazes up or down.

However, this type of abnormality is extremely rare. Squints are common in babies up to the age of two to four months, although they are usually intermittent. Squints that persist after this age need to be investigated. Parents need to know that infants with neuro-developmental delay are at increased risk of squints. Some squints are obvious, with the eyes clearly looking in different directions, but minor squints (there are many in this category) are difficult to detect.

Other symptoms include blurred or double vision in the affected eye which older children may try to deal with by closing the affected eye. I have never seen squints in animals but scientists cite a few cases in their books. What you see in the strange eyes of a chameleon are not squints but a unique and quite peculiar setting of the eyes fashioned by Mother Nature.

The chameleon concentrates its focusing with one eye at a time. Squints in humans are caused by difficulty in focusing, and are a result of what are known as refractive errors, such as long-sightedness. These refractive errors may occur in one or both. This anomaly interferes with the early brain development of binocular vision.

This means that, because the eyes focus differently, the brain does not learn to use both eyes to focus together on an object. If one eye is dominant the brain may suppress the image from the weaker eye and control of that eye may be poor. Genetic factors may be important and often there is a family history of squint or visual problems. Rarely a paralytic squint may develop, due to damage to the nerves controlling movement of the eyes, for example, by a brain tumour.

Squints may sometimes be detected by shining a light on the eyes from a distance. The reflection of the light should appear in the same position in the two eyes. One test involves asking the child to look at an object. Then cover the eye that normally fixes properly on the object and watch the other eye to see if it moves to take up fixation. If it moves, there may be a squint in that eye. But some squints are only apparent to expert eye specialists.

Children should be routinely screened for visual problems and squint at school entry or earlier but this practice does not appear to be customary in Tanzania . However, if parents think their child may have a squint, they should consult competent eye specialists. Treatment may include glasses to correct the visual problems, and patching of the normal eye to force the brain to use the affected eye. An operation may be necessary to tighten muscles around the eye.

Early treatment may help the brain to develop binocular vision. While, squints are not a health hazard that can take a life, there are numerous other pitfalls that take lives. Hundreds of young children go into early graves daily in this country. Many fall victim to common illnesses largely due to the ignorance of their parents or caregivers. The killers include preventable or curable diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, malnutrition, measles and malaria.

These are the most formidable Big Five killers south of the Sahara . Malaria, an easily curable disease, is the most notorious child killer. Malaria kills 600,000 children in Sub-Saharan Africa every year, according to WHO statistics. The disease is a widespread tropical killer that erupts when a parasite is transmitted to a human by the female anopheles mosquito.

So, avoiding mosquito bites, especially during the night can help prevent malaria. Parents should make sure they protect children from mosquito bites with the use of bed nets that are specially treated with insecticides. Malaria symptoms in children can vary from child to child, but the most common symptoms include mild flu and cough.

Most children will also exhibit a temperature and may look unhappy and withdrawn. Others cry incessantly and refuse to breast-feed
or eat. Children with malaria can mostly be treated quickly and effectively with a course of inexpensive tablets. Sick children must be taken to hospital as soon as possible. Some parents administer very bitter herbal concoctions on their ailing children. This move is likely to delay medical intervention. Malnutrition is another child killer that contributes to more than half of all childhood deaths.

So it is a very serious medical condition. Malnutrition results from a lack of nutritious food as well as poor feeding practices and infection or even a combination of the two. Make sure you feed your child properly. Pneumonia is an acute respiratory infection that ranks high among child killers. The disease kills more than two million children less than five years of age every year worldwide. In most cases the disease can be treated with low-cost antibiotics.

But the disease is a fast killer. Infected children die quickly. So parents should seek medical treatment for ailing children urgently. Key signs of pneumonia include fast breathing and an inward withdrawal of the chest. The child can also look tired and withdrawn. spmwita@yahoo.com Phone: 0787 44 66 22

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