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Children's Eye Health: Common Problems and Treatments

In Brief

  • Healthy eyes and vision are a significant part of a child’s development. From an early age, children begin learning things through what they see, and that continues throughout their development.
  • According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the most common eye conditions among children include conjunctivitis, strabismus, amblyopia, myopia, hyperopia and astigmatism. 
  • If your child is squinting a lot, rubbing their eyes, blinking more frequently, or has red, teary or irritated eyes, you should bring him/her to their physician for an eye exam.
  • Children should also be referred to an ophthalmologist if they have a chronic medical condition that predisposes them to eye problems, such as diabetes or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Healthy eyes and vision are a significant part of a child’s development. From an early age, children begin learning things through what they see, and that continues throughout their development. In fact, according to the American Optometric Association, 80 percent of all learning is done through vision.

“It’s important that parents make sure that their child is learning with the best possible sight,” says Christopher Williams, M.D., chief of the Division of Ophthalmology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “Because there are several conditions that can affect a child’s vision, it’s important that children receive routine eye exams to correct these problems. Detecting these problems early can help to prevent permanent damage to the eyes.”

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the most common eye conditions among children include:

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye): There may be a reddening of the white part of the eye, excessive tearing, discharge and the sensation that there is something in the eye. In infants and young children, it is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. In older children, it may also be caused by an allergy.
  • Strabismus (misaligned eyes): Occurs in about four percent of children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). One eye may gaze straight ahead, while the other eye turns inward, upward, downward or outward.
  • Amblyopia (lazy eye): Refers to reduced vision from lack of use in an otherwise normal eye.
  • Myopia (nearsightedness): Children who are nearsighted see objects that are close to them clearly, but objects that are far away are unclear. This becomes prevalent in school-age children.
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness): The ability to see objects at a distance better than those at close range.
  • Astigmatism: The result of an eye that has an irregular corneal shape. It may result in blurred vision. This can occur in children with strabismus if undetected at an early age.

“If your child is squinting a lot, rubbing their eyes, blinking more frequently, or has red, teary or irritated eyes, you should bring him/her to their physician for an eye exam,” says John S. Rizzo, M.D., co-chief of the Section of Ophthalmology at Taylor Hospital. “Your child’s pediatrician can usually give a screening eye exam, and if a problem occurs, they can refer you to an ophthalmologist for further treatment.”

Children should also be referred to an ophthalmologist if they have a chronic medical condition that predisposes them to eye problems, such as diabetes or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

“Conjunctivitis related to infection or allergies is often treated with eyedrops,” says Cynthia Alley, M.D., CKHS pediatric ophthalmologist. “Vision problems, such as near and farsightedness, are treated with glasses or contact lenses. Conditions such as amblyopia and strabismus have a wide range of treatments depending on the type and severity. These treatments can range from glasses and wearing an eye patch to surgical procedures to realign the eyes.”

“Some conditions, like amblyopia, can be irreversible after the child turns a certain age,” says Edward H. Bedrossian, M.D., chief of the Section of Ophthalmology at DCMH. “Because of this, it’s important to have your child’s eyes examined before they turn six. You should bring your child for an eye exam sooner than that if they develop symptoms of an eye condition. There also are some eye problems that can begin when the child is born, especially if a baby is born prematurely. If the child is born prematurely, they should have their eyes examined immediately, before coming home from the hospital.”

To find a Crozer-Keystone ophthalmologist who’s right for you or your child, call 1-800-CK-HEALTH (1-800-254-3258) or visit www.crozerkeystone.org.

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