Imagine that while you are reading this paragraph, the words became fuzzy and faded into gray. Or imagine that suddenly the paragraph became double or the words were distorted. Would you want to read or do schoolwork? Probably not. Would you feel distracted and frustrated? Certainly. You would be experiencing one of many common vision conditions that exist in children. However, many children do not complain of vision problems because they don’t realize they have a problem. Screening tests may detect some problems, but there are also many more serious hidden visual problems that occur in children.
Some common visual conditions in children include:
- Nearsightedness (myopia):
Objects at near are in focus, but objects at a distance are blurry.
- Farsightedness (hyperopia): Objects far away are in focus, but objects up close are blurry.
- Astigmatism: Objects such as letters are blurry, distorted, or may seem double. This may be noticeable both at distance and near.
These conditions are often treatable with glasses. Many parents wonder, “How young should a patient be treated for these conditions?” It depends on the magnitude of the condition and the age of the child. The greater the magnitude, the more likely that treatment is necessary to allow proper visual development. However, a certain amount of these conditions are normal for young children. For example, some studies have found that 30-50% of infants have significant astigmatism, which declines and becomes stable by 5 years of age.
Visual demands become greater as a child learns to read and write. Approximately 80% of learning is dependent on the efficiency of the visual system. It is estimated that 20-25% of school-aged children need glasses. A child should receive a full eye exam by an eye care professional such as an optometrist before entering school. The American Public Health Association (APHA) recommends that children have eye examinations at the ages of 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years. After age 5, children should have their eyes checked either every year or every other year, depending on the condition of their eyes. Other more serious visual conditions include:
- Lazy eye (amblyopia): Objects are out of focus usually only in one eye due to poor development of the visual system. 20/20 vision is not obtainable with eyeglasses or contact lenses.
- Strabismus: One or both of the eyes turn in or out due to poor alignment of the eyes.
- Convergence insufficiency: The eyes have difficulty turning inwards while focusing on near objects. This may result in double vision while reading.
These visual conditions may require more specialized treatment such as bifocal glasses, eye patching, special eyedrops, or vision therapy. New treatments are now available and vary depending on the condition.
Does your child have a vision problem? Look for the following symptoms:
- Holding a book very close to the eyes (7-8” away)
Frequent eye rubbing
Closing one eye
Blurry or double vision
Tilting the head
Short attention span
Avoiding near work
If your child experiences one of these symptoms, he or she may be suffering from a vision disorder. A thorough examination from an eye care professional is necessary to determine what treatments should be prescribed. In fact, many doctors feel so strongly about the importance of early eye exams that they provide free eye exams for infants ages 6-12 months. Please visit www.InfantSee.org for more information.
The gift of sight is a precious asset that enables a child to perform to their highest potential. Vision should be protected and preserved as much as possible in children as they undergo their critical period of development!
Posted by Dr. Amanda Paull, OD (and mother of 2-year old Angela) of Richmond, VA. Visit her website at www.RichmondOptometry.com