Types of Vision Problems
Your doctor will examine your baby's eyes and vision at each well-baby visit. If she finds anything questionable, she may refer you to an ophthalmologist or other specialist. Here are the major vision problems that the doctor is testing for:
- Strabismus: This is the result of an imbalance in the alignment of the eye muscles. It occurs in about 2 percent of the population. A newborn's eyes normally tend to wander, but your baby should be able to coordinate them by 3 to 6 months. If you see one of your child's eyes moving independently, or if one eye looks out while the other looks in, it could be a sign of strabismus.
- Blocked tear ducts: This affects one in 100 babies at birth, causing them to tear a lot or experience mucus discharge. Often the problem clears up on its own, though your doctor may recommend that you massage the tear duct or apply warm compresses to help it open. If your child gets an infection from the obstructed duct, the doctor will also prescribe antibiotic drops to help it clear up. If the blockage persists or gets worse, you may be referred to a specialist who can surgically open the tear duct in a simple office procedure.
- Amblyopia: Also known as "lazy eye," amblyopia occurs when the vision in one eye is weak, causing the baby to use the other eye almost exclusively. It affects about 4 percent of newborns, and if detected and treated early it is completely reversible. (If left untreated past the age of 5 or 6, it could cause blindness in the weaker eye.) Amblyopia can be caused by some misalignment of the eyes, by something that obstructs the eye (like a cataract), or by a focusing difficulty. Once the doctor has treated the underlying problem, she'll probably either patch the good eye or prescribe eyedrops to blur its vision in order to force the child to use his weaker eye.
- Cataracts: Cataracts are a problem usually associated with a grandpa -- not a baby. But some newborns are born with this clouding of the lens, usually because of a genetic predisposition or as the result of a viral infection, such as rubella, that their mother suffered during pregnancy. If untreated, cataracts can cause vision loss. Generally, surgery is used to remove the cataract in the first month after birth. To compensate for the loss of the clouded lens, the baby is fitted with eyeglasses or a contact lens.