How Healthy Are Your Child’s Eyes?

“You need glasses,” the ophthalmologist said to me. I was 12 years old. My mom was shocked since I never complained of unclear vision and no one else in our family had poor eyesight. The reason I went to the doctor is because I failed the eye screening exam at school. My vision became gradually worse, so I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal.

I remember when I first wore glasses thinking to myself, “Everything seems so clear and crisp. I can see the tips of leaves on a tree and easily read street signs.” I thought it was normal to see the world a little bit blurry.

August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. This issue is important to me since my vision has significantly declined from the time of my initial diagnosis over 30 years ago. Even though I am nearsighted (which means I can only see close up and need glasses for far away), without my glasses or contact lens, I wouldn’t be able to read anything on a computer screen word document (it’s just a white blur with black lines) since my vision is so poor. I asked my eye doctor if I am considered legally blind, but it turns out I’m not since my vision can still be corrected with glasses.

According to the website LetsGoSee.net, one in four children has a vision problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that amblyopia, or lazy eye, is the most common cause of vision loss in children, which can be treated if caught early, between the ages of 3 to 5 years old. The website PreventBlindness.org found the most common vision disorders in children are myopia (nearsightedness – trouble seeing far away), hyperopia (farsightedness – trouble seeing close up) and astigmatism (blurry vision at all distances).

The Urban Child Institute states that correcting poor vision can foster a child’s cognitive and social development. The American Optometric Association estimates 80 percent of a child’s learning happens through observation. Most teaching in the classroom is done by displaying the information. Children learn social skills from seeing facial expressions and body language.

Similar to my experience, children may be unaware of the fact their vision is not normal. This may lead to feeling frustrated about being unable to see the words in a book or on the blackboard in the classroom, causing a child to act out. The American Optometric Association states, “Some children with learning difficulties exhibit specific behaviors of hyperactivity and distractibility. These children are often labeled as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). However, undetected and untreated vision problems can elicit some of the very same signs and symptoms commonly attributed to ADHD. Due to these similarities, some children may be mislabeled as having ADHD when, in fact, they have an undetected vision problem.”

Optometrystudents.com lists the following as signs that may indicate your child could have a vision problem:

  1. Head Tilt: If your child has a problem with his ocular muscles or nerves he will attempt to compensate by tilting his head.

  2. Sitting Too Close to the TV: If your child is nearsighted, he will attempt to compensate by moving closer to the TV or reading materials.

  3. Avoidance of Reading: If your child has poor visual skills and eye teaming skills, he will compensate by avoiding reading. Reading uses many complex eye movements and poor visual skills may cause your child to become frustrated easily.

  4. . Frequent Headaches: You child may have headaches because he is overstrained using all of his energy to align, focus and use his eyes.

  5. Laterality Problem: If your child has poor directional skills and often confuses left and right, it could be due to poor vision. Proper oculocentric location is dependent on vision and laterality depends, in part, upon oculocentric location.

  6. Finger Pointing: If your child has poor vision tracking skills, he may use his finger to compensate for poor tracking ability.

  7. Can’t Copy from the Board: Your child may have difficulty with accommodation, the ability to change focus between far and near. This is essential for success in school.

  8. Poor Hand/Eye Coordination: This skill is required for everything from writing notes in class to playing ball with friends. Clear vision and adequate visual skills are required to create an accurate link between vision and other body movements.

  9. Eye Rubbing / Squinting Rubbing: This is a basic response to ocular discomfort. It typically occurs when eyes are strained or have been working much too hard to complete a task. Squinting is used to narrow a bundle of light entering the eye which allows for sharper vision. Your child may be squinting because this act compensates for blurry vision.

If your child is experiencing one of these symptoms, schedule an eye exam with an eye doctor. There are two different types of eye doctors – ophthalmologists and optometrists. An ophthalmologist went to medical school and a 1-year internship followed by a 3-year residency. This type of doctor can provide total eye care services. An optometrist did not attend medical school. Instead, optometrists went to a 4-year professional program and received a doctor of optometry degree. The main focus of optometrists is to prescribe glasses and contact lenses. Due to my poor vision and the fact I have had other vision issues, I go to an ophthalmologist every two years for a checkup and to receive updated prescriptions for my glasses and contacts.

Even though my mother didn’t think I would need glasses when I was 12 years old, she took me to see the eye doctor. I’m grateful she did.