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Your Vision in Childhood

You've noticed your child squinting. Does he have a vision problem?

Squinting can be a sign of nearsightedness, or myopia, as your eye doctor would call it. Nearsightedness is just one of several common childhood vision problems.

One out of every 4 kids has trouble seeing clearly. Often, parents don't know there's a problem. That's why all children should get regular eye exams.

4 Clues for Childhood Vision Problems

  1. Your child's eyes cross or are not lined up with each other.
    The problem could be: Eyes that are not aligned (strabismus).
    What to do: Take your child to a pediatric eye doctor. The doctor may put a patch over the stronger eye to strengthen the weaker one, or prescribe special glasses or eye exercises.
  2. Your child has trouble seeing things that are far away.
    The problem could be: Nearsightedness, or myopia.
    What to do: Have your child's vision checked. Eyeglasses or contact lenses can improve distance vision.
  3. Your child has trouble seeing things that are close up.
    The problem could be: Farsightedness, or hyperopia.
    What to do: Eyeglasses or contact lenses can improve close-up vision.
  4. Your child has blurry vision.
    The problem could be: Your child's cornea (part of the eye) may be curved and can't focus on images clearly. That's called astigmatism.
    What to do: Take your child for an eye exam to see if eyeglasses would help.

Other eye issues seen in kids include "lazy eye," which doctors call amblyopia. It often has no symptoms. It can be found during a regular eye exam, and can usually be corrected (or improved) if it's found and treated early enough. Depending on the cause, treatment may include an eye patch on the stronger eye, eyeglasses, or surgery in rare cases.

Rarer vision problems in kids include:

  • Glaucoma: A group of diseases that damage the eye’s main nerve. It's most common later in life, though some children are born with glaucoma or develop it.
  • Cataract: These cloud the lens of the eye. Cataracts are most common in older adults. Some children are born with cataracts or get them from diabetes or childhood diseases.
  • Retinoblastoma: A rare cancer of the retina.

Watch Those Eyes

Kids with vision problems will show some similar behaviors, most notably squinting. Look out for these other signs that your child is struggling to see clearly:

  • Complaining about headaches or blurry vision
  • Closing one eye
  • Rubbing the eyes
  • Complaining about pain in the eye
  • Redness, tearing, oozing, or crust in the eyes
  • Having an eye that turns in, out, up, down, or wanders
  • Eyes that cross or can't focus
  • Trouble reading -- holding the book really close to see the words

If you spot one of these symptoms, make an appointment with your child's pediatrician or an eye doctor. Getting a checkup right away can let the doctor find vision problems before they can affect your child's sight -- and school performance. It is very important to watch your child, since many kids don’t know something is wrong!

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