Skip to content

Eye Health Center

Font Size

Signs of Vision Problems in Young Kids

In young children, vision problems often aren't obvious.

The Eyes Have It: Vision Screening and Treatment continued...

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."

Detecting Eye and Vision Problems in Children

Most of the time, vision problems aren't obvious, and the best way to catch issues early is through vision screenings. Sometimes, though, there are symptoms of eye problems such as infection, cataracts, or other issues. Warning signs may include:

  • Eye rubbing
  • Tearing
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Pus
  • Crust
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Bulging or jiggly eyes
  • Droopy eyelids
  • White, yellow, or gray-white material in the pupil

If your child has any of these symptoms, or their eyes change in any way, or you're worried about their vision, don't wait until they're 3 years old to get that first vision test.

"If you have a concern, it's always better to be on the safe side," says Epley. "Get them checked and make sure everything's OK."

Reviewed on January 25, 2012

Today on WebMD

Woman holding tissue to reddened eye
Learn about causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Simple annoyance or the sign of a problem?
red eyes
Symptoms, triggers, and treatments.
blue eye with contact lens
Tips for wearing and caring.
Understanding Stye
human eye
eye exam timing
vision test
is vision correction surgery for you
high tech contacts
eye drop

Special Sections