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Signs of Vision Problems in Young Kids

In young children, vision problems often aren't obvious.
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The Eyes Have It: Vision Screening and Treatment

Your child's first vision screening may be done by your family doctor, pediatrician, the school nurse, or an eye specialist.

Experts have different opinions as to who should do vision screenings and exams for children. Many ophthalmologists and pediatricians feel that vision screening can be part of your child's routine pediatric check-ups -- with referral to an eye care provider if problems are noted. Optometrists, on the other hand, recommend more frequent comprehensive eye exams by an eye care professional. Your health care provider can help you determine what's appropriate for your child.

The important thing isn't which health care provider performs that first exam, but when. The earlier the better, says Collins, who agrees with the AOA recommendation for a full screening at age 3.

If that initial screening finds a vision problem, the next step is having a more in-depth examination done by an ophthalmologist. If that screening uncovers amblyopia, treatments may include:

  • Eye patches or eyedrops
  • Prescription lenses
  • Surgery

Amblyopia is a secondary condition; it happens because the eye is misaligned or focus is uneven. So the first step is to treat the underlying problem, and that's most often done with eye patches, eyedrops, or special glasses.

The goal of using patches, drops, or special lenses is to blur or occlude the vision in the stronger eye so the weaker eye has to work harder. This also encourages the brain to start sending the correct visual signals to the weaker eye.

Prescription lenses can improve the weaker eye's focus or misalignment. Surgery on the eye muscles is recommended if patches, drops, or special lenses have not corrected the amblyopia.

Improving Your Child's Vision: How Long Will It Take?

Vision treatments last until the weak eye is better. For most kids, that means wearing a patch for about a year. For a few kids, treatment can take longer while the brain slowly makes new connections.

The most vital step you can take as a parent during this time? Help your child follow through with their vision treatment.

"Compliance with patching is hard," Epley tells WebMD. By covering a child's strong eye, you're essentially forcing them to see poorly. For the first few weeks, even months, there may be meltdowns, frustration, and tantrums.

The important thing to keep in mind is that you're helping restore your child's eye sight. It's highly likely that your child's vision will improve if he or she follows through with treatment. "It works really well, but it can be difficult," Epley says. "Try to find a way."

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