Do Children Need Vision Care?
Parents shouldn’t wait until their child begins school to check for vision problems. Most eye health professionals recommend a first-time exam around age 3 to 4.
Early screenings check for common vision problems. They also allow for quick treatment (if needed), increase overall eye health, and help prevent future issues.
Your child’s pediatrician can do a vision screening using a basic eye chart in most cases. If they detect any problems, you’ll be referred to a pediatric eye doctor.
When to Schedule a Pediatric Eye Exam
Despite the importance of early vision screening, most children don’t need comprehensive annual eye exams unless there’s a problem.
You should schedule a comprehensive eye exam for your child if they:
- Fail a routine vision screening
- Are diagnosed with a vision health issue
- Have a family history of vision or eye health problems
In some cases, your child won’t need glasses even if they don’t pass a vision screening. Doctors typically prescribe glasses to children with eye misalignment, refractive errors, or crossed eyes.
However, you should speak to your child’s doctor if you notice any of the following:
- Eye crossing
- Eye rubbing
- Complaints about reading or seeing double
- Problems with school work
Children rarely need advanced eye health testing like retinal imaging. This might be necessary if your child:
- Is diagnosed with optic nerve or retinal issues
- Has diabetes
- Has low vision that isn’t corrected with prescription eyewear
Pediatric ophthalmologists can provide information about comprehensive eye care for your child. Early detection is essential.
Many children outgrow their eye problems without intervention. But it’s still important to get input from a pediatric eye care specialist.
8 Common Eye Conditions That Affect Children
Eye health issues that commonly affect children include:
1. Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)
This occurs when one eye fails to develop vision normally. It causes poor vision in the affected eye.
A lazy eye can develop if a child doesn’t receive treatment for droopy eyelids, cataracts, misaligned eyes, and refractive errors.
2. Crossed Eyes (Strabismus)
Strabismus occurs when one eye turns inward, upward, outward, or downward.
Parents should seek treatment as soon as possible. Failing to do so causes the brain to “ignore” the affected eye.
3. Droopy Eyelid (Ptosis)
Drooping eyelids range from mild to severe. Severe cases affect a child’s vision.
Some children undergo surgery to correct the problem and prevent permanent vision loss.
4. Cloudy Eyes
A cloudy appearance in the eye can indicate cataracts.
Cataracts are common among the elderly, but some children are born with them. Surgery is the most common treatment.
Cloudy eyes might also be a sign of retinoblastoma, which is retinal cancer.
Cellulitis is an infection of the eye socket (orbital) or eyelid (preseptal). Symptoms include:
- Blurred vision
- Painful bulging and swelling of the eye
- Eye movement problems
Immediate treatment is important to prevent the infection from spreading.
6. Pink eye (Conjunctivitis)
Pink eye is irritation or a pink haze over the white of the eye. Symptoms include:
- Sticky discharge
Highly transmissible viral or bacterial infections cause pink eye. This is why it’s important to isolate your child if they develop pink eye.
Pink eye might also develop due to an allergic reaction, which isn’t contagious.
It often clears on its own. However, your doctor might prescribe antibiotic drops.
7. Stye and Chalazion
Styes are red, sore lumps that develop at the eyelid’s edge. Bacterial infections cause them.
Chalazion are similar to styles but are caused by clogged oil glands.
Both conditions are treated with warm compresses. Antibiotic ointment is sometimes used to treat styes.
8. Blocked Tear Ducts
Some babies are born with tear duct blockages.
The blockage prevents tears from draining from the eyes, which leads to irritation and watery eyes. It can develop into an infection.
Massage is the most common treatment for blocked tear ducts. If unsuccessful, a doctor can use a tool to clear the blockage.
How Often Should Kids Get Eye Exams?
At least every 2 years.
Children should have their first basic eye exam around age 3. Earlier exams are recommended if there are signs of problems early on.
They should have their eyes examined again just before beginning elementary school – usually around age 5 or 6. Problems with visual acuity or focus can develop around this age.
Doctors often recommend glasses for children when they start learning how to read.
When Should Routine Eye Exams Begin?
Routine pediatric eye exams should begin when a child is school-aged (between 4 and 6 years old). Exams should occur at least once every 2 years.
If a child has eye health issues or wears glasses or contact lenses, annual exams with a pediatric ophthalmologist are recommended.
How to Maintain Your Child’s Eye & Vision Health
There are several things parents can do to protect and maintain eye health throughout their child’s life. Many of these tips are also recommended for adults.
Undergo Regular Eye Health Exams
Exams and vision screenings should occur at least once every 2 years.
Professionals recommend more frequent exams with a pediatric ophthalmologist if a child has vision or eye disorders.
Eat a Variety of Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
This includes grapes, blueberries, melons, tomatoes, strawberries, pineapple, raspberries, and carrots.
Protect your Child’s Eyes Outdoors
Children should wear sunglasses with a UV index of at least 400.
Stimulate Your Child’s Vision
Toys and tools should be used from a very early age.
This includes high-contrast toys, mirrors, building blocks, and activities that require hand-eye coordination.
Follow-up on Eye Health Recommendations
If your child’s pediatrician suspects a problem, follow up with a comprehensive exam with a pediatric ophthalmologist.
Most vision problems are correctable with early treatment.
Limit Screen Time
Time spent using technological devices and screens should be mixed with time outside and distance vision activities.
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