Maintaining your child’s health is one of your most vital responsibilities as a parent—and that includes making sure they have healthy vision. Vision plays a critical role in helping children learn and socialize, which last a lasting impact on their quality of life as adults. If your child has vision problems, you need to know about them as soon as possible so that you can take steps to address them.
We’ve put together a guide to help you recognize potential vision problems in your child. Use what you learn here to learn more about how your child sees the world, and make sure to support their ocular health with regular comprehensive eye exams as they grow older.
How Common Are Childhood Vision Problems?
Many parents assume that eyesight only deteriorates with age, but that simply isn’t true. Just look at the number of children wearing glasses at your child’s school—and that’s to say nothing of those who might be hiding their vision issues with contact lenses. The truth is that vision problems are much more prevalent in children than you might expect.
The Canadian Association of Optometrists estimates that nearly 1 in every 4 children have vision problems of some kind. However, many children—especially those under 6 years old—do not receive professional eye care.
Since children are naturally adaptive, they often assume that everybody else sees things the same way they do and are unlikely to identify vision problems in themselves. Therefore, parents have a responsibility to monitor their children for signs of possible vision problems and provide them with regular visits to an eye doctor who can provide definitive information.
The Most Common Childhood Vision Problems
Most children who experience vision problems are affected by one of the following conditions:
- Refractive errors: myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism are examples of refractive errors, which occur when the eye is shaped abnormally. An irregularly-shaped eye cannot focus light properly onto the lens, which creates blurring at specific distances depending on the refractive error in question.
- Amblyopia: this condition is also known as “lazy eye.” It occurs for one of two reasons: either the eyes are crossed, or there is a significant refractive difference between each eye. If left untreated, the brain will eventually adapt to ignore signals from one eye, causing irreversible vision loss. As such, amblyopia must be treated as soon as possible.
- Strabismus: a condition that occurs when the eyes are misaligned. Strabismus can lead to amblyopia if the same eye is misaligned too much or too often, so it’s always best to diagnose and treat strabismus early.
Many other vision problems and eye diseases (like glaucoma and cataracts) are uncommon in children who have no family history of such issues. However, routine exams by a qualified eye doctor are the only way to know for certain that these problems are not present.
How Do I Know if My Child Has Vision Problems?
The single best way to assess your child’s vision is to take them for an eye exam. However, we’ve provided a list of red flags to help you identify vision problems in your child between appointments so you can find help for them quickly if necessary.
Your Child Might Have Vision Problems If They…
- Seem unable to recognize people or objects at a distance
- Complain about not being able to read the blackboard in class
- Squint constantly
- Experience difficulty reading
- Always sit too close to the television
- Have a white pupil instead of a black one
- Seem abnormally sensitive to light
- Struggle to follow objects (usually most noticeable during playtime or athletic activities)
- Demonstrate trouble focusing in general
- Rub their eyes constantly
- Experience chronic tearing or redness around the eyes
- Have noticeably misaligned eyes, or move their eyes abnormally after they are 6 years old
A Note About Vision Screenings
Some schools and retail stores offer vision screenings for children, but these are not the same as a comprehensive eye exam. Vision screenings rely on automated equipment and are not run by eye doctors, which means they have a wider margin of error than full eye exams. Only a qualified eye doctor can diagnose your child with a vision condition or ocular disease and prescribe the necessary equipment or medication to deal with the problem.
Know the Signs and Be Proactive
Vision problems are common in children, but many of them can be corrected before they significantly impact your child’s quality of life. Keep an eye on your child’s vision with the information above, and make sure to take them for full eye exams on a regular basis.