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Detecting Vision Problems Early is Crucial to Childhood Development

Detecting Vision Problems Early is Crucial to Childhood Development

By Melanie Bradley, M.D.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 1, 2011) -- Having good vision is key to a child’s physical development, success in school and well-being. The visual system is still developing in babies and children,  and equal input from each eye is vital for brain’s vision centers to develop properly. If a child’s brain is not receiving clear images from their eyes, vision may be affected in a way that cannot be corrected later in life.  Early detection can usually allow effective treatment.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommend the following exams:

Newborns. All babies in the newborn nursery should have their eyes checked to detect any signs of infections, defects, cataracts, or glaucoma. An ophthalmologist should perform a comprehensive exam if the baby is premature or at high risk for medical problems for other reasons, has signs of abnormalities, or has a family history of serious vision disorders in childhood.

By 6 months of age. A second screening for eye health should be done by a pediatrician, family doctor or other trained health professional at a well-child exam to check for proper eye health, vision development, and alignment of the eyes.

At 3 to 4 years of age. Vision and eye alignment should be assessed by a pediatrician, family doctor, optometrist, orthoptist or person trained in vision assessment of preschool children.

  • Visual acuity should be tested as soon as the child is old enough to cooperate with an eye exam using an eye chart. Eyes should be tested separately to ensure both eyes see well.

5 years of age and older.  Vision and eye alignment should be assessed by a pediatrician, family doctor, optometrist, or orthoptist. If any vision threatening problems are detected, patient should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist trained in pediatric care for a comprehensive exam.

Warning signs of a vision problem at any age

No matter how old your child is, if you notice any one of the following, let your pediatrician or family doctor know:

  • Eyes that look crossed, turn out, or don't focus together
  • White, grayish-white, or yellow-colored material in the pupil
  • Eyes that flutter quickly from side-to-side or up-and-down
  • Bulging eye(s)
  • Persistent eye pain, itching, or discomfort
  • Redness in either eye that doesn't go away in a few days
  • Pus or crust in either eye
  • Eyes that are always watery
  • Drooping eyelid(s)
  • Excessive rubbing or squinting of the eyes
  • Eyes that are always sensitive to light
  • Any change in the eyes from how they usually look

Early detection of vision problems in childhood is key to ensuring effective treatment.

Melanie Bradley, M.D., is a pediatic ophthalmologist and an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky College of Medicine's Department of Opthalmology and Visual Services.