For very young children, blurry vision may seem normal to them. There’s also a good chance that their parents won’t know their little ones are having difficulty seeing clearly.
That’s why the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is recommending that 3 to 5 year olds receive vision screening at least once to detect abnormal visual development or risk factors for it.
A couple of visions problems that first show symptoms at this age are Strabismuc (crossed eyes) and Amblyopia (lazy eye).)
Crossed eyes do not look in the same direction at the same time. Six muscles attach to each eye to control how it moves. The muscles receive signals from the brain that direct their movements. Normally, the eyes work together so they both point at the same place. When problems develop with eye movement control, an eye may turn in, out, up or down.
Infants and young children often develop this condition by the age of three, but older children and adults can also get crossed eyes. People often believe that a child with strabismus will outgrow the condition. However, this is not true. In fact, strabismus may get worse without treatment. An optometrist should examine any child older than 4 months whose eyes do not appear to be straight all the time.
Lazy eye is the loss or lack of development of central vision in one eye that is unrelated to any eye health problem and is not correctable with lenses.
Lazy eye often occurs in people who have crossed eyes (misalignment) or a large difference in the degree of nearsightedness or farsightedness between the two eyes. It usually develops before age 6 and it does not affect side (peripheral) vision.
Treatment for lazy eye may include a combination of prescription lenses, prisms, vision therapy and eye patching. In vision therapy, patients learn how to use the two eyes together, which helps prevent lazy eye from reoccurring.
According to the American Public Health Association, about 10% of preschoolers have eye or vision problems. However, children this age generally will not voice complaints about their eyes.
Parents should watch for signs that may indicate a vision problem, including:
• Sitting close to the TV or holding a book too close
• Tilting their head
• Frequently rubbing their eyes
• Short attention span for the child's age
• Turning of an eye in or out
• Sensitivity to light
• Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination when playing ball or bike riding
• Avoiding coloring activities, puzzles and other detailed activities
If you notice any of these signs in your preschooler, arrange for a visit to your doctor of optometry.
While the two may sound similar, there is a difference between a vision screening and an eye exam.
Vision screenings are a limited process and can't be used to diagnose an eye or vision problem, but rather may indicate a potential need for further evaluation. They may miss as many as 60% of children with vision problems. Even if a vision screening does not identify a possible vision problem, a child may still have one.
Sometimes, parents get a false sense that their child doesn’t have a vision problem if he or she passes a vision screening.
A doctor of optometry performs an eye exam. He or she will look for any developmental problems and evidence of disease. If needed, your doctor of optometry can prescribe treatment, including eyeglasses and/or vision therapy, to correct a vision development problem.
When considering an eye exam, parents should:
• Make an appointment early in the day. Allow about one hour.
• Talk about the examination in advance and encourage your child's questions.
• Explain the examination in terms your child can understand, comparing the E chart to a puzzle and the instruments to tiny flashlights and a kaleidoscope.
The preschool years are a time for developing the visual abilities that a child will need in school and throughout his or her life. Steps taken during these years to help ensure vision is developing normally can provide a child with a good "head start" for school.