Is your Child Showing Signs of Eye Problems?

Optical Health

Tammy George

Children’s eyes can be affected by several eye diseases and conditions. Some will be obvious to parents while others can’t be seen. Detecting eye problems early in children allows for treatment which may not be successful later in life and also ensures their development and success in school isn’t impacted by poor eyesight.    

What to Look Out for

Children often can’t tell their parent they have a problem with their eyes because they don’t know what ‘normal’ eyesight is. It’s best that parents look for potential problems during their child’s everyday life to see if children are trying to adapt their eyes. Here are a few signs that there may be a vision problem:

  • Tilting their head trying to see better
  • Holding a book close to their face while reading
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Closing one eye while reading or watching TV
  • Regularly complaining of headaches and tired eyes
  • Difficulty playing sports
  • Losing their place while reading

Eye Problems in Children

There are several eye disorders that can cause problems for some kids including:

Myopia (nearsightedness) can be inherited but research in recent years has shown kids who don’t get enough sunlight are also at risk of mild myopia.

Astigmatism relates to the curvature of the cornea. When the cornea or lens isn't smooth and evenly curved, light rays aren't refracted properly onto the retina at the back of the eye. An appointment with an optometrist will show up any astigmatisms which can impact on a child’s ability to achieve their highest results at sport and school work.

Hyperopia (farsightedness) occurs when the eye doesn’t bend or refract light properly to a single focus allowing you to see clear images. Close objects can appear blurry. Children's eye focusing problem may only be picked up during a visit to an optometrist. Glasses may be prescribed to help refocus light on the retina and can protect eyes by screening out harmful UV light.  

Strabismus (misaligned) eyes can be obvious to some parents but not other parents and require diagnosis by a GP or specialist. One eye can point forward while the other eye focuses up, down, in or out. To stop seeing double the child’s brain turns off the eye that is not focused straight ahead. Without treatment, this eye doesn’t develop properly.

Amblyopia (lazy eye) is a common problem in babies and young children. It should be diagnosed and treated as early as possible to ensure the child goes on to develop normal healthy vision. If untreated by the age of five, there can be permanent loss of vision in one eye.

Watery eyes can occur in babies because their tear ducts are not fully developed but watery eyes should have cleared up by the time they turn one.

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Testing Kids Eyes

Newborns can be tested by a paediatrician performing a red reflex test to check eyes are normal. More comprehensive eye examinations may be needed if the baby is born premature, has other abnormalities or a family history of childhood eye problems.  

Many children will have another screening test at the age of three by a community health nurse. Children are often screened during their first year of school by the school nurse. By this age, children can use a chart test even if they don’t know their letters. Children’s charts use pictures and shapes rather than letters on traditional adult eye charts. If any potential problems are picked up, children can be referred to a specialist. Vision can change during their school years so regular eye tests may be needed.

For more extensive eye exams, a GP or specialist may use drops to dilate the pupil. Children with medical conditions including Down syndrome, juvenile diabetes, juvenile arthritis, neurofibromatosis, a learning or developmental delay or behavioural issue may be recommended to have a full eye exam rather than a simple screening test.  

When Glasses are Needed

The ability to be able to focus on objects is not fully developed until the age of seven. Known as convergence, children’s focus is very limited at birth and improves with age.  Early screening tests may not signal the need for glasses but may recommend future screening tests or exams.

The most common problem found in young school children is near sightedness. This can be corrected with glasses so children can see the whiteboard properly and play sport.

If you think your child might have a problem with their eyes, contact your GP or consult an eye specialist for further investigation.

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Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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