Over one billion people worldwide suffer from some type of vision impairment, however some of these vision problems could be resolved if diagnosed and treated during childhood. Poor vision not only affects a child’s ability to see, it can also affect their confidence, social life, general health, and even school performance. Fortunately, common childhood vision conditions including ‘lazy eye’ and ‘misaligned eyes’, as well as far- and nearsightedness, can often be treated successfully.
Signs and symptoms
Learning how to spot the signs of possible vision conditions in children is vital for their development and their future. Here are a few signs to look for when spotting vision problems in children:
- Sitting too close to the TV or holding books too close
- Difficulty in ‘following’ an object with their eyes
- Chronic red eye
- Misaligned eyes (strabismus)
- White/black spot in the eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Headaches or eye pain
- Constant eye rubbing
What to keep an eye on
Children won’t always be able to describe that they are unable to see properly, or that they are experiencing eye issues. However, they may use phrases that could indicate a problem, like “My eyes hurt”, “Everything is blurry” or “I can’t see the classroom board”. It’s also important to note that rather than verbalizing that they cannot see, some children with visual impairment present with poor attention span or personality issues. If you notice any signs of vision issues, it’s important to take your child to an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi staff physician, Dr. Arif O. Khan, specializes in Pediatric Ophthalmology, and says, “It’s never too early to examine a child’s vision if a problem is suspected. A patient can be as young as 1 day old. It’s imperative to treat any childhood problems early on. Even if a problem isn’t suspected, all children should have an eye examination by 4 years of age to rule out causes of visual impairment that may be most responsive to treatment during childhood.”
If needed, the most common treatment prescribed by an ophthalmologist is glasses. Another common childhood treatment is patching one eye if your child is suffering from amblyopia ‘lazy eye’, or strabismus ‘misaligned eyes’. In some circumstances, contact lenses may be prescribed. Rarely, more serious diseases such as cataract or glaucoma, as well as strabismus that does not respond to patching, require surgical treatment.
Children differ from adults in that there are childhood eye diseases that respond best to treatment during childhood, and can lead to permanent visual impairment if not treated during these early years. Therefore an eye checkup at any age for a child who appears to have a problem is very important in preventing and treating vision loss. Additionally, all children should have an eye checkup before 4 years of age to rule out treatable causes of visual impairment - in most cases, early detection and treatment allow full recovery.