Common eye problems in children
- Refractive error
The most common eye problems include dizzy eyes (strabismus), mild eyelid swelling (chalazion), lazy eye (amblyopia), and the need for strong glasses at a young age (refractive error).
See your family doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s eyes.
Strabismus may be known as turned eyes, crossed eyes, squint, or lazy eyes. Strabismus happens when the eyes point in different directions. When one eye is straight the other may point in, out, up or down. This may be noticeable all the time, or it may come and go. It may be present at birth or appear later. In babies and children with strabismus, the vision in the turned eye will not develop normally. Children do not outgrow strabismus. Treatment is most effective when started at an early age and may include glasses, patching, exercises, or surgery and is usually a combination of these.
Treatment is performed by an ophthalmologist and an orthopedist.
The aim of strabismus treatment:
- Good vision in both eyes
- Good performance
- Coordinated eyes (i.e. depth perception)
Amblyopia occurs when one eye is lazy because it does not receive a clear image like the other eye. The most common causes of amblyopia are strabismus, refractive error (misalignment), ptosis (drooping eyelid), and cataracts (cloud or blurring of the lens). If left untreated, it can lead to very low vision. Treatment for amblyopia consists of patches and/or glasses. Vision usually improves when treatment is started at an early age.
Mild inflammation of the eyelid chalazion when there is a blockage in the glands of the upper or lower eyelid. The eyelid may be swollen and red and sometimes have a yellowish discharge. Your baby will have a lot of chalazion on the eyelid at one point and it can occur in one or both eyes.
Take your child to your family doctor, who will prescribe early treatment. If there is no improvement after 3-4 months of treatment, you should see an ophthalmologist.
If the chalazion is too large, it will cover the centre of your child’s pupil (the central black part of the eye), which can affect your child’s vision. Your family doctor will need to refer you to an ophthalmologist.
Blocked tear duct (epiphora)
Epiphora or watering eyes may happen if the duct that drains tears from the eye to the nose becomes blocked. In many cases, blocked tear ducts get better by themselves, but if this doesn’t happen within 12 months, or frequent infection becomes a problem, a small surgical procedure may be necessary. Blocked tear ducts are not the only cause of watering eyes so it’s a good idea to have an eye examination.
Signs to watch in childhood eye diseases
Occasionally, serious conditions have signs and symptoms similar to those described above. For this reason, children suspected of having an eye problem should be examined.
- one or both pupils have an unusual or white appearance this may be noticed in photographs.
- There is constant watering or discharge from your child’s eyes.
- One eye often appears dizzy or the eyes do not seem to move well.
- You have extreme sensitivity to light or light.
- Your child’s head will always tilt/turn to one side.
Routine exam for vision problems
Screening for certain vision problems is done immediately after birth and at age 4 as part of a B4 school check. If your child is not screened, he or she must have this test during the first year of school. Please contact your child’s school to make sure the hearing and vision technician has examined your child at your next visit. This exam did not detect all vision problems.
A comprehensive eye exam is recommended for all infants and children:
- Turned eye (strabismus)
- Lazy eye (amblyopia)
- Strong glasses at an early age (refractive error)
- Premature birth (30 weeks gestation or less)
- Developmental delay
If none of the above applies to your child, but if you have a family history of dizzy eyes, laziness, or strong glasses at a young age, then the ideal time for your child to have an eye exam is between 2 and a half year or 3 years. At this age, your child is old enough for a very accurate vision test and it is still too early to handle any problems.