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Protect Your Child's Eyesight

Nearly one in 20 preschoolers and one in four school-age children have an eye problem that, if untreated, could result in permanent vision loss, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO). But take heart: Many eye problems can be fixed if they are detected early enough and treated correctly. You can help protect your child's sight by being on the lookout for any signs of a problem. Contact your child's doctor if you observe any of these symptoms:

  • Crossed eyes
  • Squinting
  • Chronic headache
  • Child frequently rubs eye or eyes
  • Inability to differentiate among different colors
  • Blurry vision
  • Double vision
  • Discoloration of the eye or the pupil
  • Swelling, itchiness
  • Watery eyes or redness
  • Unequal pupils
  • Discharge or excessive tearing

Below are some of the more common eye problems seen in children.

Strabismus (misaligned or "crossed" eyes) This occurs in about 4 percent of children, says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). With this condition, one eye may look straight ahead while the other looks left, right, up, or down. Children can be born with strabismus (which is often caused by eye muscles that are too tight) or develop it during childhood. Treatment usually involves glasses or eye surgery. Left untreated, strabismus can lead to serious vision problems.

Amblyopia (lazy eye)

About 2 percent of children suffer from amblyopia. In those children, one eye is weaker than the other and the brain "shuts off" the images received from the weaker eye. Treatment may include glasses, surgery, or putting a patch over the stronger eye. If not treated early, amblyopia can result in permanent vision loss.

Myopia (nearsightedness)

Nearsightedness -- which is rare in babies and toddlers, but more common in school-age kids -- means that a child can see objects that are close just fine, but objects that are far away are unclear. Eyeglasses usually help to improve distance vision.

Hyperopia (farsightedness)

Kids who are farsighted can see objects well at a distance, but have trouble seeing close-up objects clearly. According to the AAP, a small degree of farsightedness is normal in infants and children. If the hyperopia is more severe, glasses are usually required.

Conjunctivitis ("pinkeye")

In babies and children, a viral or bacterial infection is usually the cause of pinkeye. In older kids, an allergy may be the culprit. Symptoms usually include redness, excessive tearing, and discharge from the eye. Treatment for bacterial pinkeye usually involves the use of eyedrops or ointment. Contact your pediatrician if you suspect your child has pinkeye.

Astigmatism

The result of an irregularly shaped cornea (front part of the eye), astigmatism can result in blurred vision. Depending on the degree of astigmatism, eyeglasses may be recommended.

If a doctor determines that your child does need glasses, the next step is to pick out a suitable pair. You'll want to keep your child's face shape in mind for a flattering pick. Also, consider these suggestions:

  • Choose the right materials. Lenses made of polycarbonate -- a strong, lightweight, shatterproof material -- are best for kids. But polycarbonate does scratch easily, so ask for a scratch-resistant coating on your child's specs.
  • Ask the optician about ways to make your child's glasses more comfortable. Some to consider: nose pads to keep frames from slipping, comfort cables that wrap around the ears (for 1- to 4-year-olds), flexible hinges, and straps in place of ear pieces (for babies).
  • Let your child help choose the frames. If she is old enough, get your child's input on the frames. The more she likes her glasses, the better she'll be about wearing them.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.