Most children won’t have any idea that they have a vision problem, so it’s up to us to be vigilant when it comes to noticing signs of potential sight issues.
If your child has an uncorrected vision problem, it could severely affect his or her development. Regular eye exams are the most reliable ways to identify problems with your child’s vision, however there’s also a number of warning signs you should look for.
In the first few months of their life, babies can only see objects that are 8 - 10 inches from their face - just far enough to clearly make out the face of the person holding them. Over the next year, their eyes will develop depth perception and eye hand coordination - this means that it’s very rare for children to develop problems at this age. If a child is suffering from a vision problem, it’s likely to occur somewhere between 18 months and 4 years old.
There are some common warning signs to look out for. These include:
- Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
- Squinting or tilting head to see better
- Frequent eye rubbing
- Crawling incorrectly
- Bumping into furniture or walls
- Losing balance when standing up from a sitting position
- Sensitivity to light and/or excessive tearing
- Closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better
- Avoiding activities which require near vision, such as reading or homework, or distance vision, such as participating in sports
- Complaining of headaches or tired eyes
- Complaining of double vision
- Exceptionally clumsy
- Is not able to distinguish certain colors (red from green, for example)
- Has difficulty seeing objects that are potential hazards, such as steps, curbs, and walls
Although the above can all be warning signs of problems with vision - sometimes there are no signs whatsoever. A crossed or wandering eye can affect between 3 - 5% of children. The symptoms include a visible misalignment of the eyes, with one eye turning in, out, up, or down.
It’s normal for a newborn’s eye to wander during the first few months of life but if one or both eyes continue to wander after the age of 6 months, then it’s probably due to a condition called strabismus. This is treatable but must get seen to by an ophthalmologist as soon as possible.
The other vision problem to be aware of is where one eye is more farsighted than the other. Farsightedness is very common in young children but is probably the hardest problem to detect, as your child won’t know any different.
Uneven focus or a slightly wandering eye may not seem that alarming, but if either condition goes untreated, a child's stronger eye will slowly become the dominant eye. The brain will start to ignore the images coming from the weaker eye, and stop developing the nerve connections leading to it.
By the time they reach about 9 or 10, the vision loss in that weaker eye is usually permanent. It can be stopped and reversed, but it needs to be caught early.
Make sure you take your child for regular check ups with the ophthalmologist, as spotting vision problems early in a child’s life can play a crucial role in preserving a child’s eyesight.