Your child’s vision helps them take in the world around them. But it also plays an important role in their development. If your child has an uncorrected vision problem, it may affect their ability to learn and reach their highest potential. Having a routine eye exam is important to keep their eyes healthy.
In the United States, about 1 in 4 preschool-aged children have an undiagnosed or untreated vision problem. Because many vision problems begin at an early age, you should make sure your child gets regular eye exams to help keep their eyes healthy. Healthy vision is important for your child’s overall development and learning ability.
You can do a lot to protect your child’s developing vision. Keep reading to learn how to help your child see the bright future they have ahead.
Vision Screenings and Eye Exams
As your child grows, their eyes can change quickly. Your child’s pediatrician will likely screen your child’s vision as part of their regular checkups. If they find signs of a vision problem, they may recommend that your child see an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam.
Although both are important, a vision screening and an eye exam are not the same thing.
- A vision screening is a quick evaluation of your child’s eyes. It can be done by a family doctor, pediatrician, school nurse, or other health care professional. Although it can help identify possible vision problems your child may have, it cannot diagnose the exact problem.
- A comprehensive eye exam is a thorough exam done by an eye doctor—a specialist called an ophthalmologist or optometrist. The eye doctor can diagnose your child’s medical or vision problem and provide treatment.
A vision screening should not take the place of a comprehensive eye exam. Even if your child passes a vision screening, they should also see an eye doctor at least once a year to check the overall health of their eyes. If you have any concerns about your child’s vision, ask their pediatrician to help you find an eye doctor. Early detection and treatment are key to protecting your child’s vision.
Common Vision Problems in Children
If your child has a vision problem, they may have trouble recognizing letters and written words, which can affect their school performance. Some studies have found improvements in learning, testing, class participation, behavior, and self-confidence after an eye exam and treatment.
Parents and teachers can help children by being aware of common vision problems. For example:
- Refractive errors: This eye condition includes myopia (nearsightedness), hyperopia (farsightedness), and astigmatism (when the cornea or lens has a different shape than normal). Refractive errorsexternal icon occur when light does not correctly focus on the retina, which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. This condition causes blurred vision.
- Amblyopia (lazy eye): This eye condition occurs when vision in one eye is reduced because of a communication error between the brain and the affected eye. The brain will rely more and more on the stronger eye, while vision in the weaker eye gets worse.
- Strabismus (crossed eyes): This eye condition can affect one or both eyes. When a child has strabismus, their eyes do not focus on the same object at the same time. As a result, their eyes have trouble maintaining the correct position.
- Convergence insufficiency: This eye condition affects how the eyes work together when looking at objects close up. Convergence insufficiencyexternal icon can cause blurry or double vision when a person looks at any object close up, including a book, computer, or digital device.
If you notice your child squinting, rubbing their eyes, having trouble concentrating, or complaining of headaches after doing schoolwork, make an appointment with an eye doctor. The eye doctor can check your child for these conditions and other vision problemsexternal icon and provide treatment if needed.
Tips for Protecting Your Child’s Vision
Eye exams at every age and life stage can help keep your vision strong. Take care of your vision health, just as you take care of the rest of your body—and help your child do the same. Your child’s vision health affects how well they can see, learn, and enjoy life.
You can help your child follow these tips to protect their eyes and their developing vision:
- Eat well: Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help protect your child’s vision. Fruits and vegetables have many vitamins and minerals necessary to maintain healthy eyes and vision. Remember, your kids look up to you. If you include healthy foods on your plate, you’ll be a role model they can follow.
- Limit screen time: Increased screen time can make uncorrected vision problems worse. Limiting screen time each day and having your child take frequent breaks when using any type of digital device will help to protect their vision. Taking frequent breaks is also a good habit to have when doing other kinds of near-vision activities, such as reading, writing, or drawing.
- Get enough sleep: As we sleep, our bodies heal and recharge. This includes our eyes. Not getting enough sleep can affect how well your child’s eyes heal from everyday eye strain and irritants in the environment—like dry air, allergens, and pollutants.
- Spend time outdoors: Many children spend hours each day doing near-vision activities. Just like other muscles in the body, the muscles in the eyes need time to relax. Going outdoors allows their eyes to look at objects in the distance, which gives their eyes a chance to recover from eye strain and fatigue. Playing outdoors also helps kids be physically active, get essential vitamin D from the sun, and improve their social skills.
- Wear sunglasses: Spending time outdoors has many health benefits, but you must also protect your child’s eyes from the sun. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays over time can be harmful to the eyes. For the best protection, make sure your child wears sunglasses that have 100% UV protection.
- Use protective eyewear: About 90% of eye injuries can be prevented with protective eyewear. If your child is involved in sports or other activities, make sure they wear protective eyewearexternal icon to avoid serious eye injuries.
- Get regular eye exams: When your child gets regular eye exams, their eye doctor can follow their vision at every stage of development. If anything changes, the doctor will be able to treat and manage your child’s vision quickly.