When my daughter was 3 years old, I noticed her left eye wandering while she watched a cartoon. I panicked and my wife and I took her to see her doctor the next day.
Her doctor referred us to a local pediatric ophthalmologist. My biggest concern? “Was my precious princess going blind?”
Fortunately, no. In fact, we found out that my little girl is farsighted. Because of her age and the fact that neurological pathways were still forming in her brain, it was best to put her in glasses early, so more severe problems didn’t show up later.
Now, my daughter is eight and in her fourth pair of glasses. I have always known adults should have their eyes checked, but as a curious father of two girls, I wondered when children should start having their vision checked and what other problems could happen with their eyes. I turned to pediatrician Kristen Storey, DO, with the Banner Health Center in Fort Collins, to get the answers.
“Eye health in general is very important to overall health and quality of life,” says Dr. Storey. “If a child cannot see properly, then he or she may have significant difficulty in school or at home, which can lead to low self-esteem and behavior problems.”
Dr. Storey notes some vision problems, such as amblyopia (commonly called lazy eye), must be diagnosed and treated at a young age, or the child may face vision problems that affect their quality of life as an adult.
She notes the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends vision screening at every well-child check from the very first newborn visit to the age of five years.
The screening methods are different based on the child’s age, stage of development and what eye problems are common. Additionally, Dr. Storey says these screenings can be done by a pediatrician or a family doctor, but if the doctor doesn’t feel the screening was adequate after two attempts, or something abnormal was found on the exam, the doctor may refer the child to an ophthalmologist.
I also asked Dr. Storey what some common eye problems children may face, and she told me, besides risk of infections and damage to the eye and surrounding tissue, common eye problems vary based on the child’s age.
“The infant under 1 year is at risk for structural eye problems such as cataracts, glaucoma, clouding of the cornea, abnormal blood vessel formation in the back of the eye and drooping of the eye lid, all of which can cause amblyopia,” she said. “Infants are also at risk for retinoblastoma, which is a malignant tumor of the back of the eye. If this is discovered early then there is a better chance of not only saving the child’s eye and vision but also his or her life.”
Dr. Storey also mentioned children between the ages of 1-8 years old may suffer from:
- Lazy eye, which affects 2-4% of preschool-aged children
- Strabismus (misalignment of the eyes, so they do ? not work together to see)
- Nearsightedness (myopia)
- Farsightedness (hyperopia).
“These conditions can all be treated, so their detection is important, although it can often be difficult,” says Dr. Storey. “Once a child reaches the age of 6-10 years, decreased vision in one or both eyes as a result of amblyopia or strabismus cannot be further improved as the hard-wiring for the visual system has become established and cannot be changed.”
Now, for my daughter, the sign was pretty obvious that we needed to have her eyes checked, but others may not be so lucky. What are some of the tell-tale signs a child needs a thorough eye exam?
“Even as an infant, your child should be able to maintain focus on an object,” says Dr. Storey. “If he or she cannot, that may be a sign of a vision problem.”
Other signs include poor performance in school (can be an indication he or she can’t see well) and complaining of painful eyes or pain with moving the eye. The latter can be a sign of a serious problem, such as an infection.
If you suspect your child may have difficulty seeing or has a problem with his or her eyes, Dr. Storey recommends calling your pediatrician or family practitioner’s office to discuss your concerns. But remember not to panick your child.
”The more afraid the parent is, the more afraid the child becomes, which will make getting a good exam even more difficult than it already is,” says Dr. Storey.
Hmm. Not panicking should be at the top of my list of things to work on. Especially when it comes to my princesses.