When your little one is born with a healthy set of lungs, ten wiggly toes, and ten perfect fingers, you breathe a sigh of relief. All is well in their new world.
But sometimes, things aren’t quite as perfect below the surface, and your child is born with or develops an eye disease or condition.
When that happens, you want to do everything you can to understand and treat the problem with a pediatric eye care specialist. They can guide you on this new journey and teach you the strategies you’ll need to know to help your child navigate their life.
Many of these vision problems, such as impairment, are easily treatable if caught early. That’s why taking your child to an optometrist for regular eye exams is essential. This guide explains the importance of pediatric eye care and some of children’s most common vision diseases and conditions.
An Overview of the Most Common Pediatric Eye Diseases and Conditions
It may come as a surprise that pediatric vision problems pose a significant worldwide issue, with approximately 450 million children diagnosed annually. Out of that number, 90 million live with sight loss daily. These children have a visual impairment that affects their daily activities. They require support or assistive devices to carry out everyday tasks such as reading, writing, playing, or even walking. It highlights the significance of addressing pediatric vision problems and ensuring access to proper treatment and support.
Luckily, there are various forms of eye therapy for kids to help correct the issue or delay further degeneration. The type of vision therapy necessary depends on the condition. We’ve broken down the top five predominant eye problems here.
The most common vision problem by far is myopia, but you’ve likely heard it called nearsightedness. This condition occurs in every one out of two people.
Myopia happens when the cornea curves too steeply, or the eye is longer than it should be from the front to the back. These abnormal physical traits cause you to struggle to see things far away. Symptoms include blurred vision when looking at things far away, squinting to try to make objects clearer, headaches, and eye strain.
Your optometrist can diagnose nearsightedness with an eye exam. Treatment for myopia is glasses or contact lenses. In some cases, surgery can correct the problem. Pediatric eye specialists may recommend advanced treatment such as vision therapy, peripheral defocus contact lenses or orthokeratology.
Children with myopia need treatment as early as possible. This condition increases the risk of developing serious eye problems, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and detached retinas.
While treatment is often as easy as glasses, you can help manage your child’s condition at home. Limit their time on near-focused activities, including screen time and reading, and encourage outdoor activities. Myopia is not reversible, but you can slow its development and protect your child’s future eye health.
Nearly as common as myopia is its opposite, hyperopia or farsightedness. Hyperopia is the result of the eye’s inability to bend light properly, causing you to see far away clearly, but have blurred vision for things up close.
Refraction (light bending) is an essential part of how our brains process and “see” things. The cornea and lens bend light as it enters the eye. Light lands on the retina (the back layer), which sends a signal to your brain telling you what it should see. But with hyperopia, the shape of the eye is slightly abnormal, and the light hits behind the retina instead of on it. The signals aren’t as clearly defined, and the object in front of you is blurry.
Symptoms of farsightedness include struggles with reading, squinting, eye strain, and headaches. Children with hyperopia often don’t show any signs of the problem until they’re older because their eye lens is flexible enough to adjust for the refraction issues.
Parents with hyperopia are more likely to pass this gene down to their children. However, any child can develop the condition. An ophthalmologist can diagnose farsightedness with a vision exam using an eye chart or a retinoscope.
Children with farsightedness may be prescribed eyeglasses or contact lenses to help adjust the way light bends when it hits the eye. Refractive surgery, such as LASIK or a similar procedure or a refractive lens exchange, are options for more severe cases.
It should be noted that some children outgrow or adjust to their farsightedness as they develop. If it isn’t corrected, it can turn into vision loss and amblyopia (lazy eye).
Astigmatism happens when the eye doesn’t develop in the normal, evenly round shape that it’s supposed to become. Instead, it stretches in an ovular or egg-shaped way, either horizontally or vertically uneven. Because of that irregularity, your vision is blurry.
It might sound rare, but astigmatism is quite common and is frequently passed on through genetics. It can also develop through eye injury or disease or after surgery.
An optometrist can diagnose your child’s astigmatism with an eye chart or other vision tests. The condition often comes hand-in-hand with myopia or hyperopia because of the abnormal shape of the eye and its refractive issues.
Symptoms of astigmatism include blurry vision, headaches, squinting, eye discomfort, and eye strain. However, some children can’t tell you their vision is blurry, making it even more important to get your little one regular vision exams. Untreated astigmatism can result in problems in performance in school and sports, lazy eyes, and vision loss.
Treatment will depend on the severity of astigmatism. Eyeglasses and contact lenses may be enough to refocus the light and help your child see clearly. Refractive surgery, such as LASIK, are long-term solutions that your doctor may suggest.
Strabismus (Crossed Eyes)
Strabismus is a more serious eye condition that happens when at least one of the six muscles that control the eye is misaligned. Functioning normally, the six muscles receive brain signals that tell them where to go. They work together, moving and pointing in the same place.
But when any of the muscles can’t control the movement, an eye turns in, out, down, or up. It can happen consistently or when the person’s eyes/brain are overstimulated and tired.
Getting your child’s eyes into proper alignment is vital for their future vision health. They need all six muscles strong to help avoid double vision, problems with depth perception, and vision impairment. If your ophthalmologist diagnoses strabismus, they will likely recommend vision therapy. Left untreated, this condition can cause permanent vision reduction.
Strabismus is commonly seen in infants and children under 3, but it can develop with age. Treatment will depend on the severity of the eye crossing, the frequency with which it occurs, whether it’s unilateral or bilateral, and how old the child is.
Parents with strabismus are likely to pass the gene down to their children. However, uncorrected farsightedness, medical problems like Down Syndrome or cerebral palsy, and head injuries can cause the condition.
Symptoms include inconsistent eye movement, eyes that look out of alignment, squinting, frequent blinking, double vision, head tilting, and trouble with balance (depth perception). Many of these signs are difficult for a young child to share with you, but an ophthalmologist can test for eye focus and movement and diagnose the condition.
In addition to vision therapy, treatment can include eyeglasses, eye muscle surgery, and prisms. Strabismus has a high chance of correction if caught and treated early.
Amblyopia (Lazy Eye)
You’ve heard it called “lazy eye,” but the official term is amblyopia. This vision problem happens during a child’s development. One or both eyes doesn’t grow properly, causing issues with sight later.
Amblyopia can be the result of untreated strabismus, refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, cataracts at birth, or droopy eyelids. This condition is diagnosed by an optometrist, who will test to see if the vision in both eyes is the same or varies.
Treatment for amblyopia may involve strengthening the muscles in the weaker eye using an eye patch on the stronger eye. Eyeglasses, vision therapy, and other treatments suggested by your eye doctor can increase your child’s chance of normal vision in the future.
Schedule Your Child’s Eye Vision Appointment Today
Vision problems are extremely common in young children, yet they’re not all able to tell you they can’t see properly. Because of this reality, every child should have an eye exam before they turn four years old.
Children with a family history of serious eye disease should see an ophthalmologist in infancy and toddlerhood. Early detection can prevent the degenerative development of vision problems.
Remember, many of these issues develop with age. Regular pediatric eye exams can catch any problems before they become serious issues.
Schedule a vision exam and therapy consultation today at Rancho Santa Fe Optometry, where we provide comprehensive exams and treatment options for children and adults of all ages. Contact our team to schedule a comprehensive eye examination to diagnose and treat.