Clear-eyed kids: how to tell if your child needs vision correction

By Dr. Mark Aginsky

If you have school-age children, chances are you’ve seen a report card with grades that could use some improvement.

Most parents have been there, delivering a speech to our children about how they need to focus more in class and spend more time on homework. But what if laziness is not the culprit? In some cases, the problem can be a child’s undetected vision problems. After all, who can focus clearly on any work if they can’t see what’s going on?

Unless you’re aware of the signs that your child’s vision is failing, problems could persist unknown for years. With so many other things going on in the life of a family, sometimes the annual eye exam is forgotten.

Moreover, with no benchmark for comparison of what good vision should look like, a child with poor vision may not know to articulate their inability to see, or may be too embarrassed or shy to mention it.

So how do you know if your child’s eyes are a concern? There are a few telltale signs to beware of. If any look familiar, you need to schedule an appointment for a full eye exam. If your child is  nearsighted or farsighted, the results of an exam could have far-reaching effects on your child’s behavior, grades and overall happiness.

Squinting eyes: Squinting can temporarily improve vision because it’s like peeking through a small opening. Squinting slightly changes the shape of the eyeball and focuses a smaller amount of light on the fovea, the part of the retina that sees fine detail. If your child is squinting, he or she could be trying to compensate for poor vision.

Head tilting: For children who have double vision, tilting the head may help minimize the problem. Head tilting can be a sign of an imbalance in eye muscles or a squint.

Close-up views: If you see your kid sitting too close to the TV or lowering their head considerably while reading, you could be witnessing signs of nearsightedness. Those who are nearsighted see better at close range. By moving closer to their focal point, a child can make the image they are looking at larger.

Reading issues: Reading is one of the great joys of life, but can quickly become an exercise in frustration if your child keeps skipping lines or losing their place on the page. Sometimes astigmatism or eye muscle problems like strabismus are the cause.

Does your child use finger-pointing to keep track of where they are? While this is part of learning to read independently, in some cases it can be a sign of uncorrected vision problems like amblyopia or lazy eye.

One sign of amblyopic eyes is the phenomenon of crowding. Letters or words appear very close to each other, making them difficult to recognize. Correcting this and other reading issues associated with poor vision can make a lifelong difference when it comes to the written word.

Covered eye: Have you noticed your child covers an eye to read? When one eye is delivering poor vision, covering or shutting it prevents it from interfering in adept vision. But leave that problem uncorrected and you run the risk of your child developing amblyopia or lazy eye. Eye covering can also be a sign of double vision caused by a squint or a more serious problem such as a cataract.

Sensitivity to light: If bright sunlight causes your child to close one eye, it could be a sign of exotropia, a type of squint. Be careful of attributing that eye closing purely to sensitivity to light.

Horrible headaches: Frontal headaches or aching brows are one of the signs that children have uncorrected farsightedness. The headaches are a consequence of the extra effort they must exert to clear blurry vision.

According to the American Optometric Association, children’s eyes should be examined when they are 6 months old, 3 years old and 5 years old. After that, they should be checked every other year while the child is in school.

Don’t rely solely on the vision screening your child receives at school, as a screening checks only the sharpness of vision – not close- up skills needed for reading, such as tracking, focusing and binocular vision. These will be covered in a professional eye exam.

If you’re concerned about your child’s vision and it’s been a few years since their last full eye exam, speak to a doctor today. Early detection of a child’s vision problems can make all the difference in enabling them to reach their full learning potential.

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