Paying attention to optical health and the development of vision is very important during infancy and childhood. Along with vision problems, other diseases and conditions of the eye can develop. If left untreated, eye abnormalities in childhood can lead to further problems with age.
Just as a baby’s physical body develops slowly in the womb, their eyesight ability develops gradually from the time they are born into their childhood. Babies are born with peripheral vision and begin to develop the ability to focus on close objects, directly in front of them during the first few weeks of life. Pediatricians will check for the ability to focus on and track, or follow, objects at check-ups. If an infant cannot focus or follow objects by the age of three months, the pediatrician may refer the patient to a pediatric ophthalmologist or optometrist for further screening. Because the ability to focus, track, and perceive distance and depth develops throughout early childhood, doctors advise treating childhood vision problems promptly. Consult your pediatrician, ophthalmologist or optometrist if you have concerns.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the ability of both eyes to focus simultaneously on a single object, known as convergence, becomes more fully developed by the age of seven. Therefore, correcting problems with focus early in childhood provides the child with the best outcomes for lasting vision and eye health.
Here is a brief description of eye problems that are frequently screened for during infancy and childhood. If parents notice that their child’s eyes seem to cross, or that one eye wanders it is wise to consult with a pediatrician, ophthalmologist or optometrist.
Strabismus: Strabismus is a misalignment of the two eyes, which can result in other vision problems, such as amblyopia.
Amblyopia: Amblyopia is reduced vision in one eye. Typically termed “lazy eye,” this condition is quite common.
Ptosis: Ptosis is a condition in which the eyelid droops down and interferes with normal vision.
Refractive Errors: These problems include nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. They are thought to be hereditary. Refractive errors can be treated with corrective eyewear; glasses are the best option for young children.
In babies and toddlers, vision screening and optical examinations rely largely on the observations of the eye made by the pediatrician, ophthalmologist, or optometrist. As children get older, screening for vision problems becomes somewhat easier. A variety of types of eye charts have been created to make testing easy and accurate for children as young as three years old. Charts are even available with pictures of common symbols, which allow children who do not know how to identify all the letters of the alphabet to participate in vision screening.
School-aged children, who are having difficulty with assignments, or with classroom behavior, should be carefully screened for vision problems by their pediatrician, ophthalmologist, or optometrist. In many cases, difficulty seeing the chalkboard, or focusing on the printed page is interpreted by the school as the sign of a learning or behavior problem. Children with undiagnosed vision impairments frequently do not report difficulty seeing, as they are used to their vision problem and assume their vision is normal.
PreventBlindness.org has resources for parents who want to screen their children’s vision at home.
At all ages, eating well, exercising and getting the proper amount of sleep can help ensure the healthy functioning of the eye. Quitting smoking, or deciding never to begin smoking, is also an important lifestyle choice that can affect the health of the eye. For young children, avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke is akin to not smoking. Your primary care doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist or optician can provide you with specific suggestions on how to maximize your eye health on a daily basis.