By Dr. Rahul Bhola, pediatric ophthalmologist at CHOC Children’s
Routine vision screening or eye examination at an early age is very important to detect risk factors, such as lazy eye, that can cause irreversible loss of vision or blindness. Fortunately, early detection and timely management of these issues can prevent permanent visual impairment.
A majority of vision impairment issues go undetected, since young children with impaired vision are often unaware of their vision issues—it is, after all, how they’ve always seen things. It is on us as parents and educators to look for signs of visual impairment.
How can you tell if a child has trouble seeing?
Preschool children will most likely not be able to communicate their issues. Early signs that your child or student may need comprehensive vision exam include:
- An eye appears to be misaligned (crossing or drifting out)
- Squinting, closing, covering one eye or rubbing one or both eyes
- Complaining of headache, nausea or dizziness during visual tasks such as reading
- Excessive clumsiness or poor depth perception
- Tilting head to one side
- One or both eyelids droop down
- Family members have been diagnosed with eye problems
Without early detection and intervention, children with an untreated eye problem may suffer from serious irreversible vision loss or even blindness in some cases.
The most common cause of visual impairment in children is refractive errors. This means the shape of the eye doesn’t bend light correctly, causing a blurred image. Children with refractive error need glasses, and without correction they are at risk for a lazy eye or irreversible vision loss.
Correcting vision can improve social interaction for kids
I recently treated a five-year-old boy who was referred by his pediatrician for an eye exam. When I met this patient, he was extremely shy and socially withdrawn. During his eye exam, which only took about 20 minutes, he was diagnosed with severe farsightedness. This explained what his parents had assumed was introvert behavior; if he got too close to something, it was blurry!
His parents called my office a few days later. After wearing glasses for just a few days, their son was a totally different kid, interacting socially appropriately for the first time in his life. During his follow-up appointment, he was so excited to tell me that he had finally seen stars for the first time!