What are the common eyesight problems affecting children?
Children may present with many problems, some congenital (from birth) while others develop with age. Here are some of the common issues that often face children and how they can be corrected.
What are cataracts?
Cataracts can sometimes be present from birth. These are cloudy patches in the lens of the eye. In normal eyes, the lens that exists inside the eye is clear. This lens is used in order to focus images properly and if it is not clear or too large, blurry or blocked vision can result. Surgery is usually required to correct this problem. A baby or young child with a cataract could eventually go blind as this lens prevents light from being sent to the retina, or back of the eye. This means visual information won't be sent to the brain at the right time. At this young age, the eyes and brain need to learn how to work together in order to see properly, so it is important to remedy this problem as soon as possible. They can be picked up by an optometrist using specialised equipment.
What causes a squint?
Squints are another problem commonly seen in children where the eyes do not look in the same direction. Your optometrist can give you advice on how to correct this common issue. Squints, also known as strabismus can cause double or blurred vision. Children may also develop lazy eyes, where the brain ignores all the signals coming from the eye with the squint. If your child squints after the age of five, you should visit your optometrist who might be able to recommend specific eye exercises or prescribe glasses that can be used to correct the problem. In children under this age, the problem may resolve itself and is nothing to be concerned about. Squints can be caused by the eye trying to overcome a common vision problem such as short-sightedness or long-sightedness or to correct a lazy eye.
What is a lazy eye?
Lazy eyes, or amblyopia, is where the vision in one eye does not develop properly. With correction, this can be fixed so the problems do not affect the adult. Children with this problem will rely more on their good eye to see clearly. As a result they may have problems with their depth perception and may not be able to judge distances accurately. They may walk into objects or have trouble catching a ball. Your optometrist will be able to determine whether your child has a lazy eye and can recommend appropriate treatment. This could include covering the good eye with a patch to encourage the lazy eye to work properly or using eye drops to impair vision in the good eye. This is a gradual process that can take months to remedy.
What is short and long-sightedness?
An eyesight test can also determine if your child is short or long sighted and your optometrist will be able to recommend the best form of treatment. This is usually in the form of glasses, but it's best to speak to a professional. Short-sighted children will have trouble with their distance vision, while long-sighted children will not be able to clearly see objects up close.
What is astigmatism?
Another problem that could affect your child is astigmatism. This refers to the cornea. In children with this condition, the cornea is not properly curved, which can affect vision. Often this can be corrected with the use of lenses, but it is best to talk to your optometrist to discuss the options.
What is colour blindness?
Colour blindness can also affect children, which is where they might not be able to tell the difference between different colours or may not be able to see certain colours. Currently there is no treatment for this condition, but your optometrist will be able to advise you if your child has it.
What else can be discovered in an eye test?
Optic nerve damage can also be picked up in an eyesight test, as can a tumour or growth that might be pressing on the sight centre of the brain. This can affect vision. Premature babies may also have other problems with their vision, particularly if their eyes have not had enough time to develop properly. Your optometrist can also give advice about children's spectacles and can advise about fit and comfort. Children can also develop eye strain from prolonged computer or video game use, but this can be remedied by encouraging regular breaks. If problems persist, consult your optometrist.