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  • Dr. Sandra Chiu

7 Ways to Tell if Your Child has Vision Issues

While it's easy to say that a child who never takes their glasses off has a vision issue, it is more difficult to detect the presence of vision issues of a child who voices no concerns.

Not all vision issues can be picked up during vision screenings at schools or pediatrician visits. Many eye problems in children are only found during an eye exam by an optometrist.

In children with a hidden eye problem, it could mean poor performance in school, getting handheld objects very close to the eye, or even frequent tripping on the stairs. This can affect a child's academic and social life if left untreated.

Two previous Canadian studies suggested that approximately 1 in 5 children aged 3 to 6 years have a visual problem, but another report showed that only 14% of children in Ontario under 6 years of age had a comprehensive eye examination in 2013 even though annual eye exams are covered by OHIP.

Now, how do we know a child needs to see an optometrist? Here are some indicators to look out for:

1. Squinting

It is normal to squint when there is bright light shining in your eyes, but people with nearsightedness often squint when looking at far objects. Nearsightedness is an eye disorder caused by eyeballs that are longer and more steeply curved than normal. As a result, images in the eye are formed before the retina and far objects will become blurry for the patient. Squinting increases clarity of vision by two ways: changing the shape of your eyes and allowing only a small amount of centrally focused light rays onto your retina.

If you see your child squinting when watching TV or in class, arrange an eye exam for your child to confirm if he/she is nearsighted.

2. Short attention span for tasks like reading or colouring

Opposite to nearsightedness, farsightedness can make a child detest activities that require close focusing on near objects.

Farsightedness can be tricky to diagnose because the child appears to have normal vision, scores 20/20 in eye charts, and happily sits in any position in the classroom. However, these children appear to have very short attention spans for tasks like reading or drawing. If your child has trouble focusing on tasks that require a close working distance, they may have hidden farsightedness that is preventing them from seeing clearly when learning to read.

3. Head tilt/closing one eye

Either one of these behaviours may be a sign that your child may have difficulties with how their eyes work together. By tilting their head or closing one eye, your child may be favouring one eye over the other. This condition is especially important to catch as early as possible, as the visual system becomes significantly less malleable after the age of 6. This can lead to permanent vision loss in the weaker eye if left untreated.

4. Poor hand-eye coordination

Poor hand-eye coordination may be a sign that your child is having trouble with their depth perception. This can result from poor alignment of their eyes on objects, leading to poor judgement of space.

A common sign that your child might have difficulty with depth perception is if they struggle with sports such as baseball or tennis.

5. Rubbing the eyes

Frequent eye rubbing may be a sign of astigmatism. While most causes of astigmatism are a result of natural causes, there are some cases where astigmatisms are caused by aggressive eye rubbing. If you notice your child rubbing their eyes out of discomfort, contact an optometrist.

6. Headaches

Children with vision difficulties are known to experience frequent headaches. This could be a result of the strain placed on the eyes due to the uncorrected refractive error or binocular vision issues.

7. Due for annual eye exam

Undiagnosed visual conditions can have a large impact on a child’s ability to learn and participate in and out of school. Therefore, an annual eye exam is essential for every child, even if they are not showing any of the above signs and symptoms.

Is my child too young for an eye exam?

Optometrists are trained to perform eye exams for all ages. During a pediatric eye exam, special tests are performed by the optometrist that do not require a response from the child to determine the appropriate glasses prescription or treatment. The optometrist may even turn visual tests into fun games so a child does not realize they’re having their visual function tested.

If you want to schedule an eye exam or have any questions in regards to your child’s vision, contact us today by clicking here.

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