Children are not just little adults. Their visual system which is immature responds differently to conditions that affect it. It also has more plasticity and can respond to certain treatments much better than a mature visual system.
Find below details about three common conditions that affect children and what to do next if you are a parent/care giver or a pediatrician.
1. Refractive errors
This is the condition in which the child is not able to see clearly because objects of interest are not sharply focused by the eye
This can be further divided into the following categories
Myopia: This is called near sightedness or short sightedness in common language. Children with this condition, usually complaints of inability to see far off objects. Typically, these children will have difficulty seeing the board in school, may go close to a television screen to view or may take objects closer to the eye to see clearly. They may squeeze their eyes to see clearly.
Hypermetropia: This is called farsightedness in common language. Children who are farsighted may have difficulty seeing objects close by. If more severe, they may not be able to see far off objects too. Sometimes these kids may develop an inward turning of the eyes due to the hypermetropia.
Astigmatism: This occurs due to a more conically shaped cornea (the first clear and transparent structure of the eye that lets light into the eye) and more rarely a misshapen natural lens inside the eye. Children with astigmatism may have difficulty with distance vision and/or eye strain and headaches. Some children with astigmatism may turn the face when viewing distance objects.
So, if you notice your child is squeezing eyes to read, or reluctant to read, makes mistakes during board copying in school, unable to see the board clearly, take the child to an eye doctor preferably one who specializes in eye problems in children (a pediatric ophthalmologist) for a complete eye examination.
2. Squint or strabismus
This is a condition in which the eyes are misaligned. The deviation of the eyes may be intermittent or constant. Squint may be caused or worsened by the presence of a refractive error (see above). If one eye is constantly squinting, it may lead to loss of vision in that eye. This condition known as amblyopia or lazy eye (see below) needs to be identified and treated in a timely manner.
Some squints may indicate the presence of greater problems in the brain and nervous system.
All children with a squint need a comprehensive eye exam.
3. Amblyopia (Lazy eye)
This presents as poor vision in one or both eyes. Causes may range from a squint/ strabismus or refractive error in only one eye to high refractive error in both eyes. The eye with the ‘problem’ is not used to the full extent by the brain and the inputs from that eye are slowly suppressed and lost. Rarely a cataract, droopy eye lids in a child can also cause amblyopia.
Best way to detect amblyopia is by vision screening. Once picked up it can be treated quite effectively depending on severity and age of the child.
Ask your child’s schoolteachers if they have a vision screening program in place to pick up amblyopia and refractive errors in children. If they do not contact a pediatric ophthalmologist and they can guide you.