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Hidden signs of vision problems in children


In some cases, the signs a child has a vision problem is abundantly clear. The child may squint, hold reading material close, experience headaches or complain about things appearing blurry. However, there are some less obvious signs a child is having trouble seeing.

Here are four signs your child may have a vision problem:


1. Your child has a short attention span.

Does your child quickly lose interest in games, projects or other lengthy activities? These types of activities require clear vision and can be difficult if your child has a vision problem.


2. Your child losing his or her place when reading.

Does your child have difficulty keeping track of the words when reading? Multiple vision issues could cause this, including a lazy eye, also known as strabismus amblyopia.


3. Your child avoids reading and other close activities.

Does your child avoid drawing, reading, playing games or taking part in other projects that require up-close focus? Your child may not be aware that the difficulty and frustration are related to vision. Another important clue your child should get a vision check is if he or she complains of headaches or eye strain after reading.


4. Your child turns his or her head to the side.

When something is in front of your child, does your child turn his or her head to the side to see it better? This may be a sign of a refractive error, such as nearsightedness, or myopia; farsightedness, or hyperopia; astigmatism; or a slight eye misalignment called strabismus.


Why regular eye examinations are important

If your child feels tired and has trouble concentrating and learning, it could be due to a vision problem. Your child’s success in school is closely tied to eye health and clear, comfortable vision. School requires intense visual involvement, regardless if in the classroom or learning from home. Physical education and sports also demand strong vision.

Regular eye screenings at school or at your child’s primary care office are important for early detection of vision concerns. It’s also important to bring your child in between regular well child visits if you have any concerns with your child’s vision. Or you can schedule an appointment with an optometrist or ophthalmologist, who can find and treat vision problems early. The earlier your child is treated, the better off your child will be ― in and out of school.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends eye screenings at these ages:

  • Newborn — Although a newborn’s vision is mostly blurry, a health care provider can check a newborn baby’s eyes for basic eye health, such as blink and pupil response.
  • 6 to 12 months — This screening, which can be done during a well child visit, involves checking for eye alignment and movement.
  • 12 to 36 months — Your child’s health care provider may screen for lazy eye using a special camera.
  • 3 to 5 years — A check of your child’s vision and eye alignment should be done by a pediatrician, family doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist or orthoptist. As soon as your child is old enough to read an eye chart, visual acuity can be tested.
  • 5 years and older — Children should be screened for visual acuity and alignment. If your child’s eyes aren’t aligned or your child has signs of other eye problems, see an ophthalmologist. Children who take growth hormone therapy should have an eye test before and during treatment.

Misty M. Watters, O.D.

Dr. Watters is an optometrist for Mayo Clinic Health System in La Crosse, Onalaska and Sparta, Wisconsin.

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