Children may be susceptible to certain problems, even when they are newborns or infants. It’s important to learn about these potential problems so that you can prevent or detect them and seek treatment accordingly. The following are some of the most common eye problems in children.
This condition occurs when the shape of the eye doesn’t bend (or “refract”) light correctly, causing the images to appear blurred. This can result in farsightedness (poor near vision) or nearsightedness (poor distance vision), the latter of which is the most common refractive error in school-age children. Astigmatism (an imperfect curvature of the front surface of the eye) is another type of refractive error. Children generally wear glasses or contacts in order to treat these conditions.
More commonly known as a “lazy eye,” this condition is marked by poor vision in an eye that may otherwise appear normal. This is typically caused either by crossed eyes or by a difference in the refractive error between the eyes. This condition is best treated during the preschool years – if it goes untreated, amblyopia can cause irreversible vision loss in the affected eye.
When the eyes are misaligned, the resulting condition is strabismus. The eyes can be turned out, up or down when this condition occurs. When one eye is chronically misaligned, it may develop amblyopia and be at risk for vision loss over time. When detected early on, a patch is applied to the properly aligned eye, forcing the misaligned one to work properly. Specially designed glasses can also be used to help the eyes align. In more serious cases, surgery can be performed to fix the misaligned eye.
Conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” occurs when the clear mucous membrane over the white part of the eyeball and the inside of the eyelid (the conjunctiva) becomes inflamed. This is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection of the conjunctiva, although chemical irritations or allergic reactions may also be the cause. When bacteria or a virus is the cause, conjunctivitis can be highly contagious. Treatment usually includes cleaning the eyelids frequently along with antibiotic eye drops or ointments. This problem usually starts to clear up within a few days with proper treatment.
Also known as color vision deficiency, color blindness actually refers to a range of problems in detecting color. It includes everything from slight trouble telling different shades of color apart to not being able to identify any colors at all. Most color blindness problems are hereditary, and there is no cure for this condition. However, certain techniques and specially tinted eyeglasses may help some individuals with color blindness.
This is the term used to describe a cataract that is present at birth. A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye. Congenital cataracts often occur as a part of a birth defect, such as Lowe syndrome, congenital rubella, Pierre-Robin syndrome, Down syndrome or chondrodysplasia syndrome. This condition can also be hereditary. Mild congenital cataracts may not require treatment, but more severe congenital cataracts can be removed via surgery.
This condition is marked by a swollen or irritated uvea, which is the middle layer of the eye. The cause of uveitis is often unknown. In some cases, the cause is an underlying condition such as syphilis, AIDS, histoplasmosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis or tuberculosis. Uveitis can often be treated with steroid eye drops and/or wearing darkened glasses. Many forms of uveitis are mild and go away with proper treatment in a few days or weeks (though relapses are common). When the condition affects the posterior area of the uvea, it may last months or year and can cause permanent vision damage even with treatment.
Signs To Watch For
Some of the signs that a child may have vision or eye problems include:
- Blurred vision
- Difficulty reading
- Sitting too close to the TV
- Inability to see the blackboard
- Chronic eye redness
- Chronic tearing of the eyes
- Constant eye rubbing
- Poor focus
- Poor visual tracking (following an object)
- Abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after 6 months of age)
- Extreme light sensitivity
- The pupil being white rather than black
If your child is displaying any of these symptoms, be sure to see an ophthalmologist or schedule a comprehensive eye examination as soon as possible.
When it comes to preventing eye problems in children, the best method is to schedule routine eye exams and visual screening tests. It’s also helpful to do what you can to prevent eye trauma, such as ensuring that your children wear the proper protective equipment while playing sports. Talk to your physician or ophthalmologist if you have any concerns about your child’s eye health.