Since children’s eyes mature quickly before and during grade-school years, they should have ongoing exams to monitor vision and ensure normal development.
Regular vision exams are as crucial as hearing tests, blood tests, and other standard screenings at a pediatrician’s office. However, sometimes these screenings are not included in a child’s routine physical.
“Eye exams are most important at two points in a child’s life: right after birth and around three years old,” explained Dr. Joseph Demer, chief of pediatric ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Institute. “When a child’s vision is not screened consistently, eye problems may go undetected until after the opportunity for treatment has been lost.”
When vision problems are detected early, certain corrective therapies can be initiated. Pediatricians are trained to screen for eye problems using the red-reflex exam, check how the pupils react to light, measure visual acuity in older children, and see if the eyes are aligned.
Focus problems include astigmatism, nearsightedness, and farsightedness, all of which can be corrected with glasses or contact lenses. More serious problems can lead to loss of visual acuity or other visual function.
Children with a family history of amblyopia – “lazy eye” – or strabismus – a disorder in which the eyes do not line up in the same direction – are at higher risk of developing more serious eye problems. Rarely, children may also experience tearing problems, cataracts, glaucoma ,and even eye tumors.
Dr. Demer urges parents to watch for behaviors or complaints that may signal vision problems.
Some warning signs may be obvious, while others are hard to recognize. Common signals that a child may have vision problems include:
Complaints of double vision
Excessive tearing or swelling.
Optometrists are equipped to diagnose refractive and focusing problems in older children. Pediatric ophthalmologists specialize in diseases and surgeries of the eyes, and are the appropriate specialist for all ocular problems in younger children and for serious eye problems at any age.
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