PAMF Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

Children’s Eye Health – Answers to Commonly Asked Questions

Posted on Dec 13, 2011

I Spy With My Little Eye…

Playing peek-a-boo, devouring the first Harry Potter book or scoring a goal for the team – good eye health and vision are critical so your child can learn, experience and enjoy the world around him or her to its fullest. From birth to the age of 10, the area of a child’s brain responsible for vision is still developing. That’s why it’s important to have your child’s eyes checked regularly, as many eye disorders and vision problems can be treated successfully if diagnosed early.

When should I start taking my baby for regular vision tests?

Newborn babies have their eyes examined for the very first time right after birth. Your child’s regular doctor will then include a screening examination of your child’s eyes and vision during every well-child visit. Once your child is old enough to cooperate (usually at 3 to 4 years, or older) he or she will be tested by being asked to provide feedback from looking at an eye chart. If your child’s regular doctor detects any vision or eye problems, he or she will refer your child to the appropriate eye doctor (an ophthalmologist or optometrist).

Parents often worry that their child is too young to fully cooperate with an eye exam or can’t read letters, but most pediatric eye doctors get creative with a variety of kid-friendly techniques using toys, games and videos to make sure they can conduct a thorough exam.

I just found out my 2-year-old daughter has “lazy eye.” What is this and can it be treated?

Your daughter is not alone. “Lazy eye,” also known as amblyopia, is so common that it accounts for more vision loss in children than all other causes put together. “Lazy eye” happens when one eye sends blurry images to the brain, then over time the brain learns to only see fuzzy images with that eye.

There are several different causes for lazy eye, including:

Misalignment of the eyes (also called strabismus) – this means that both eyes don’t look at the same point in space simultaneously.

  • Near- or far-sightedness (astigmatism) in one eye only.
  • A physical blockage that prevents light entering the eye, such as a cataract or a droopy eyelid.

The good news is that by seeing a pediatric ophthalmologist for early invention, your daughter’s lazy eye can be treated to correct her vision. First your daughter will start wearing glasses to correct the focusing ability of her eye. An eye patch or eye drops can also be used to block vision from the eye the brain has been relying on for vision. Without signals from the eye the brain has favored, the brain is forced to use the other eye and relearn clear vision.

I’ve noticed that my 4-year-old son goes a little cross-eyed sometimes. Should I be concerned?

If you notice something different about your son’s eyes or vision, talk to your son’s regular doctor. A misalignment of the eyes (strabismus) includes crossed or floating eyes and causes visual signals to the brain to shut off, resulting in poor vision development. There are many different types of strabismus, for example, one eye may turn in, out, up or down. Treatment may involve glasses, eye patches, eye exercises and eye muscle surgery to adjust alignment. Glasses and eye patches are often very effective in treating a misalignment of the eyes – surgery is rarely needed.

Someone in my daughter’s kindergarten class always seems to have pink eye. How can she avoid getting it? 

Pink eye (conjunctivitis) is an infection caused by a virus or bacteria. As the name indicates, the whites of the eyes will look pink or red and you may notice yellow or green discharge coming from the eyes. Regular and thorough hand washing is the best way to avoid this condition that is usually not serious but can be uncomfortable and unsightly. Occasionally, antibiotic eye drops are required.

If the white part of the eye looks pink or red for more than a week or two, or if your child has sensitivity to light, talk to your doctor, as this could indicate a more serious problem.

My daughter has a learning disability. I’ve heard that certain types of vision training might help her do better at school – is that true?

There is no scientific evidence that supports the claim that vision training or colored lenses in glasses improve academic performance when a child has a learning disability. Instead your daughter will benefit much more from an individualized learning evaluation, tutoring and teaching techniques tailored to her specific needs.

Of course, you should make sure your daughter sees her doctor regularly who will detect any possible vision problems and refer her to a specialist if necessary. If she needs them, glasses can help her see better and learn at school.

I have rambunctious twin boys. What’s the best way to keep their eyes and vision safe? 

It’s definitely a good idea to take some simple precautions to prevent any possible eye injuries. Make sure any sharp household items, gardening or other tools and household cleaners are stored away securely. If your boys do ever get any chemical substances in their eyes, flush their eyes and face with any available source of water for at least 10 to 15 minutes, then head to the nearest Urgent Care Department.

Almost half of all eye injuries happen during sports and recreational activities. If your twins play sports where the ball is moving quickly, such as soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball or lacrosse, consider getting them protective sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses that won’t shatter. Always make sure they wear any required face shields.

Carol Winton, M.D.,  contributed to this blog post. Dr. Winston is a board-certified ophthalmologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Vision Care Center. She has fellowship training in pediatric ophthalmology.