Vision screenings important for youngsters

August 19, 2010 By Daniel Chin, M.D.

As part of your child's medical care, remember to get his or her vision checked, too.

Many vision problems start at a young age, and problems that aren't corrected or treated can worsen. Among the several common eye disorders affecting youngsters are:

Refractive disorders. These are farsightedness (hyperopia), making close objects blurry; nearsightedness (myopia), wherein objects farther away are blurry; and astigmatism, meaning objects near and far are blurry. Refractive disorders can start at a young age and if significant and untreated can cause amblyopia, also known as lazy eye. Refractive disorders tend to run in families and treatment is through prescriptive glasses.

Amblyopia (lazy eye). With this condition, typically one eye is impaired, and if not treated, vision becomes weak or “lazy.” Ambylopia's common causes are strabismus (crossed eyes) and/or a refractive disorder. Treatment involves glasses, eye drops, and/or wearing a patch over the good eye to help the problem eye improve. The sooner lazy eye is diagnosed, ideally before age 7, the greater chances of treatment success. Without treatment, permanent vision loss can occur.

Strabismus (crossed eyes). Strabismus can be present at birth but it often develops between ages six months and 2 years old. Strabismus is hereditary and can have different causes. This includes a weak muscle, treated through surgery. A high refractive disorder, like farsightedness can also lead to crossed eyes. In this case, your child would likely wear glasses, and surgery may also be needed. If there's a history of strabismus in the family, it's good to periodically check the baby's eyes to make sure the eyes are not turning in or out.

Cataract. While not common, sometimes an infant will have a cataract. This is a cloudiness of the lens. A symptom is a white pupil, which might also indicate a possible tumor. If your child has a cataract, surgery is needed as soon as possible to remove the lens, which can be replaced by an implant or contact lens.

Children should receive vision screenings by physicians, nurses or trained screeners at ages:

• Newborn to 3 months

• 3 to 6 months

• 6 to 12 months

• 3 and 5 years old

• 5 to 18 (every one to two years)

If your child's vision screening results suggest a possible disorder, or if there are other vision concerns, he or she should see an eye doctor for a complete eye exam.

Daniel Chin, M.D., is an ophthalmologist and a member of The Hospital of Central Connecticut medical staff.