How To Know If Your Child Might Have A Vision Problem

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Does your child consistently sit too close to the TV or computer screen, or hold a book too close? Does he/she close one eye when trying to see something? Can he/she see things that are far away but has trouble when they are up close, or vice versa? Any of these signs may mean that your child has a vision problem.

The only way to know for sure is to have your child’s eyesight examined, first by your pediatrician, and then if a problem is detected, by an ophthalmologist (eye doctor). When vision problems are found early, they have a much better chance of being treated successfully.

Symptoms of a vision problem

Lauren Adler

Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP

Approximately 80 percent of what children learn in school is taught visually. This means that if your child has an uncorrected vision problem, it could greatly affect his/her mental, emotional and academic development.

Children with undetected vision problems are sometimes diagnosed with learning disabilities including ADHD. While many schools conduct basic eye screenings, these are not a substitute for a thorough eye exam by a vision specialist.

To recognize a potential problem early on, here are some warning signs to look out for:

Babies up to 1 year of age

  • Before 4 months, most babies’ eyes occasionally look misaligned (strabismus). However, after 4 months of age, inward crossing or outward drifting that occurs all the time is usually abnormal. If one of these is present, let your child’s doctor know.
  • Babies older than 3 months should be able to follow or track an object with their eyes, such as a toy or ball, as it moves across their field of vision. If your baby can’t make steady eye contact by this time or seems unable to see the object, let your pediatrician know.

Preschool age

If your child’s eyes become misaligned, contact your pediatrician right away. Other vision problems, such as a lazy eye (amblyopia), may have no warning signs, and your child may not let on that he/she is having trouble seeing things. That’s why at Westchester Health Pediatrics, we tell our parents that it’s important to have your child’s vision checked before he/she starts school, because there are special tests that can be performed even before your child can read.

All children

If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, contact your pediatrician:

  1. Eyes that are misaligned (are crossed, turn out or don’t focus together)
  2. White or grayish-white color in the pupil
  3. Eyes that flutter quickly from side to side or up and down
  4. Eye pain, itchiness or discomfort reported by your child
  5. Redness in either eye that doesn’t go away in a few days
  6. Pus or crust in either eye
  7. Eyes that are always watery
  8. Drooping eyelids
  9. Frequent eye rubbing
  10. Over-sensitive to light
  11. Squinting to read
  12. Sitting too close to the TV or computer, or holding a book too close in order to see the print
  13. Frequent complaints of headaches
  14. Lower-than-expected grades in school
  15. Using a finger to guide eyes when reading
  16. Closing one eye to read

Vision screening: when to get your child’s eyes checked

Vision screening is a very important way to identify vision problems in your child. During a typical eye exam, a vision specialist checks to see if the eyes are working properly and looks for signs of eye disease. Children with a family history of vision problems are more likely to have them also.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that children have their eyes checked by a pediatrician at the following ages:

  • All babies should have their eyes checked for infections, defects, cataracts or glaucoma before leaving the hospital. This is especially true for premature babies, babies who were given oxygen for an extended period, and babies with multiple medical problems.
  • By 6 months of age. As part of each well-baby visit, eye health, vision development and alignment of the eyes should be checked by your child’s pediatrician.
  • 1 to 2 years. Special screening techniques allow your child’s pediatrician to start detecting potential eye problems.
  • 3 to 4 years. Your child’s eyes and vision should be checked for any abnormalities that may cause problems with later development.
  • 5 years and older. Your child’s vision in each eye should be checked separately every year. If a problem is found during an exam, your child’s pediatrician may refer him/her to a pediatric ophthalmologist, an eye doctor specially trained and experienced in the diagnosis and care of children’s eye problems.

Concerned that your child might have a vision problem? Come see us, we can help.

If you’re noticing signs that might indicate that your child may have a vision problem, please make an appointment with Westchester Health Pediatrics. One of our pediatricians will examine your child’s eyes and vision, make a diagnosis and if warranted, refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) so that hopefully your child will be seeing clearly soon. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.

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By Lauren Adler, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician with Westchester Health Pediatrics

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About the Author: ML Ball