Being a toddler is an exciting time. Kids spend their days discovering the world by reading (or rather looking at pictures while you read to them), playing games, jumping, running, crawling and rolling around. You want your pre-schooler to enjoy the time they have before it’s time to begin their school journey.
But before your toddler embarks on their long journey of formal education, there’s one thing you need to be absolutely sure of: that your toddler can see properly. Aside from severe vision disorders that babies can be born with such as blindness or cataracts, it can be almost impossible to know how well or not your toddler can see.
Eye conditions in pre-schoolers are more common than you’d think. If these conditions go uncorrected or treated, they can severely diminish your toddler’s quality of life (and they’ve barely started living) and hinder their learning. It has been said, after all that 80 percent of learning in school is done visually.
In this new two part series, we’ll be bringing you the most common eye problems in pre-schoolers and how to spot the warning signs.
Amblyopia or Lazy Eye
We start our series off with possibly the most common vision condition in pre-schoolers: amblyopia, otherwise known as lazy eye. Lazy eye is a developmental issue that occurs when the brain begins to ignore the image being produced by one eye. As a result, it may cause the ignored eye to drift and look “lazy”.
There are several reasons why amblyopia develops and it’s usually linked to one eye being underdeveloped. Ironically, as a result of being underdeveloped, the eye actually develops astigmatism or farsightedness.
As these vision conditions only affect one eye, the brain is being sent one clear image and one blurry one. If this goes untreated, the brain will ignore the image being sent from the underdeveloped eye. If left untreated, the brain will continue to ignore the weak eye and the sight in that eye will only worsen.
Amblyopia is commonly treated by essentially forcing the brain to use the weak eye until vision in said eye improves. This is normally accomplished by covering the good eye with a patch for a certain amount of time every day. It’ll be a little uncomfortable at first, but it is a necessary step in regaining vision in the weak eye.
Sometimes eye glasses will be used to correct the eye’s vision and help the eyes focus together when the patch isn’t being worn. If amblyopia is not corrected before the ripe age of seven, the condition can become permanent. Currently there is no cure for adult amblyopia, although researchers are working on it.
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Here are some signs to look out for in your children that could mean amblyopia:
- Frequent head tilting to be able to see
- Frequent squinting or eye rubbing
- One eye drifting or wandering towards the inside or outside of the eye
- Eyes not working together when looking around
Hyperopia or Farsightedness
Hyperopia or more commonly, farsightedness is a condition in which your pre-schooler will be able to see things clearly in the distance, but not up close. While a poster on the wall on the other side of the room will be perceived as crystal clear, the coloring book in front of them will be a blurry mess.
Hyperopia is a refractive error, meaning that the light entering the eye isn’t being refracted properly which then gives the brain a blurry image. When someone it farsighted it means that the refractive error comes from the cornea and lens of the eye being curved too little.
If your pre-schooler is farsighted, it usually means they were born with this condition. Hyperopia is a vision condition that runs in families, so if you or someone else in your family has the condition it isn’t unlikely that your pre-schooler will have it too.
The degree of the condition will depend on each individual toddler. Some children diagnosed with farsightedness can barely see their own hands, while other can manage to read and do other activities at a close distance, but not for long periods of time.
As of right now, the only option aside from surgery (and we doubt you want to put your toddler through surgery), is corrective eye wear. Eye glasses and contact lenses are popular among children because the condition can be easily corrected with the right prescription.
However, as your children age, their cornea and lenses will harden and will make it more difficult for the eye wear to correct the problem. Regular eye exams and making sure your child has the right prescription can help avoid this.
Unlike amblyopia, there are hardly any external signs to look for in your toddler. Instead, you’ll have to rely on your toddler’s ability to describe their symptoms to you. Here are some questions to ask your toddler:
- Do nearby objects seem blurry?
- Do your eyes burn or itch a lot?
- Do you get headaches when doing close tasks (reading, writing, drawing, computer games, etc.)?
- Do you need to squint to see things close to you clearly?
Myopia or Nearsightedness
You may have guessed it, but the next eye condition on our list is myopia, otherwise known as nearsightedness. It is the opposite vision condition of farsightedness. Those with myopia can see things close to them quite clearly, while seeing things in the distance poses a lot of difficulty.
Like hyperopia, myopia is also a refractive error. In this case, the lens of the eye is curved too much because the eyeball is too long. When this happens the light to be redirected to a point in front of the retina instead of directly on it, which it what causes blurry vision.
Like farsightedness, myopia is also a condition that runs in families. Knowing your family eye health history is extremely important in keeping your pre-schoolers healthy.
Once again, the only available treatment for myopia is corrective lenses. Eye glasses and contact lenses are available.
However, depending on the degree of nearsightedness, your child may only need to wear their glasses when they need to see things in the distance such as a chalk board or while playing sports.
Here are some questions to ask your child to see if they may be suffering from myopia:
- Do you need to squint to see things in the distance?
- Do you get headaches from looking at things that are far away?
- Do you have blurry vision when looking at things in the distance?
Remember that your pre-schooler needs to have an eye exam at least once a year. They’re at an age where their eyes are constantly changing and growing. One year their sight may be perfect, but then suddenly their lenses don’t develop properly and now have blurred vision.
Thanks for reading part one of our series. We’ll be back next month with three more common vision conditions in pre-schoolers. Stay tuned!