Toddlers and Childrens Vision Concerns

Parents are usually the first to notice that their children may have special vision needs, so if you have any concerns about your child’s vision, don’t hesitate to talk to your pediatrician or eye doctor. Some warning signs of vision needs include: 

  • Sitting or standing close to the TV
  • Holding a book close to eyes
  • Squinting
  • Rubbing eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing
  • Closing one eye to see better
  • Avoiding certain activities; close (reading) or far (playing ball)
  • Complaining of headaches

Some issues require no treatment, while others may be corrected easily with eyeglasses, or other forms of correction. In all cases, the best chance to make sure your child’s vision is safe is to detect issues early with regular eye examinations. Don't hesitate to talk to your pediatrician or eye care professional if you have any concerns. 

Common Vision Issues for Children

About 25 percent of school-age children have a vision disorder. Here are common eye conditions:

  •  Nearsightedness, or myopia, affects distance vision. Your child may read without difficulty, but will squint to see objects that are across the playground or far off.
  •  Farsightedness, or hyperopia, causes blurred vision at all distances. A farsighted child struggles to focus on any object, whether the item is close by or across the room.
  •  Astigmatism is a condition in which your cornea or, in some cases, the lens behind the cornea is not equally curved in all directions. Astigmatism causes images to blur because light rays are focused on some parts of the eye and not others. Objects that are close-up or far off can be equally distorted.

These three issues can be corrected easily with corrective lenses.

What Other Things Should I Be on the Lookout for?

If you spot a problem or a strange behavior in your child’s eyes, be sure to contact your eye doctor immediately, regardless of your child’s age. While most children’s eyes develop normally, some of the problems can emerge in young children.

Choose the symptom below to learn more about what to watch for, and the terms your eye doctor will use and how to get more information.

 Color Blindness Parents may observe symptoms of color blindness in their children when their children are young. In other cases, symptoms are so slight, they may not even be noticed. Common symptoms of color blindness include difficulty distinguishing between colors and an inability to see shades or tones of the same color.

Crossed eyes

One eye may turn in towards the nose, or the eyes may seem to move independently, as if they can’t work together. This is known as strabismus, a condition that occurs when the eyes are not able to align on the same point at the same time, and appear to be misaligned or pointed in different directions. The eye that turns off-target may be the same in every incidence, or it could be a different eye at different times.

One child in 20 has crossed eyes or trouble tracking. This is often not a condition babies or children simply outgrow so children with eyes that seem to be misaligned should be examined and treated if necessary. Generally, it is easier to correct when caught early. 

Drooping eyelid

If your child’s eyelid droops over the eye and appears as though it would block their vision, your child may be developing amblyopia, or “lazy eye”. Amblyopia occurs when there is reduced vision in one eye because the eye and the brain are not working together. The brain may start to ignore the image from the amblyopic eye. Amblyopia normally only affects one eye - resulting in the amblyopic eye appearing "lazy". It is often associated with strabismus, or crossed eyes, when an individual’s eyes appear directed toward two different points instead of one.

Visit PreventBlindness.org to learn about The Eye Patch Club - a supportive program for amblyopia.

Milky white covering over the pupil

In rare cases, children develop childhood cataract in one or both eyes. This can appear as a milky white covering over the pupil, and may be detected at birth.

The surgical procedure for cataracts in children is much like it is for adults, involving the removal of the affected lens in the eye. After cataract surgery, your child will need glasses or contact lenses to see before a permanent intraocular lens is implanted. Your eye doctor may choose to use Silsoft Super Plus contact lenses for aphakia which are designed for children who have had cataract surgery where an intraocular lens has not been implanted.

Pink eyes

If your child's eyes have yellowish or greenish discharge and are red and irritated, he or she may have a condition called pink eye, or conjunctivitis. Pink eye can come from many causes, but it generally is the result of a bacterial or viral infection. In some cases, it may come from allergies, environmental chemicals, or passed on from a mother to child during childbirth. The underlying cause of pink eye will determine the course of treatment so talk to your child's pediatrician or eye doctor.

Vibrating Eyes

If your child’s eyes seem to jump, vibrate back and forth, or move erratically in a way that looks unusual to you, he or she may have nystagmus. This condition may signal that the eyes’ motor system is not developing normally. If you have a relative with nystagmus, or if you have it yourself, it’s possible that your child could develop this as well – so it’s important to tell your child's pediatrician or eye doctor during your child’s eye examination if nystagmus runs in your family.

The American Nystagmus Network provides a great deal of information on this condition, its causes and treatment.


Did you know?

Sometimes photos can uncover common and uncommon eye concerns - from the way the flash reflects off the retina. If a photo is taken under optimal conditions and you see a white, yellow or black reflection in one or both of your child's eyes - show your child's pediatrician or eye doctor; this may be a warning sign.

Read how this helped one mother on the American Academy of Ophthalmology website, "Photos Can Help Diagnose Children's Eye Problems and Save Sight".

Remember, the best way to help keep your child's eyes healthy is through regular professional eye examinations. Be sure to have your child's eyes examined – by a licensed eye doctor – before six months of age and again at age 3.


Photo at top of page courtesy of National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health.

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