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Published on September 18, 2017

young girl wearing glasses

Vision and Kids – Why Early Screening Makes Clear Sense

Maybe your daughter is squinting all the time.

Perhaps your son, who had no headaches all summer, now seems to have them consistently on school days, but they go away on the weekend.

These are among the many signs of vision problems in children, and screening early is a key step in making sure your child’s vision is as clear as it can be.

“Pediatricians screen kids’ eyes for age appropriate responses from birth and at every well-child visit as they grow,” said Avera Medical Group orthoptist Joey Martin, who works with children daily. “If you or your pediatrician has any concern regarding your child’s vision, it’s never too early to have their first comprehensive eye exam. You don’t need to wait.”

Making a Big Difference

Early intervention for eye problems makes a huge difference, Martin said. A child’s visual system typically develops until around age 8. In children with a strong need for glasses or eye misalignment, visual development can be halted in one or both eyes and if not addressed by age 8, can be almost impossible to reverse with corrective lens, patches or other approaches.

“Parents must be advocates on behalf of their children’s vision and ensure they are getting the appropriate screenings in the primary care setting at school or daycare. If your child has not been screened, or if you are unsure, a thorough eye examination is recommended prior to the start of kindergarten,” he said. “Oftentimes, children do not complain of difficulty seeing, and they become accustom to or ignore blurred vision. It’s all they have ever known.”

The lack of development in one eye can be very subtle and again points to the importance of early, regular vision screening.

“We often see referrals from pediatricians following a vision screening where mom and dad had no idea their child wasn’t seeing well out of one eye,” Martin said. “There were no outside physical signs and their child had no visual complaints.”

Acting Now to Save Vision Later

In cases where one eye has clear vision and the other is blurry due to a strong need for glasses, a patch may be used in addition to glasses to help the development of vision. Kids and parents may be concerned about anxiety of having to wear a patch, but in many cases, children will only need to wear it for a few of hours each day, typically for several months.

Subtle misalignments in the eyes, blurred vision or squinting and redness or tearing also are signs of vision issues. Comprehensive eye exams can help address them.

“We make exams as family-friendly as possible and will bring everyone in to the exam room together, have siblings take turns reading the eye charts or play movies – it really helps reduce anxiety,” he said. “In cases where kids do need glasses, we find most of them will take to them pretty easily, it just requires a little patience and a team approach.”

Children with vision problems, for the most part, do not realize it. When they get glasses and see more clearly, they adapt well, Martin said, although the first week can be tricky.

“The glasses just become a part of their life, and a lot of times, mom or dad will have to pry the glasses off as they get ready for bed – they just see so much better and appreciate that fact,” he said.

Common Questions

Martin said the most common issue parents ask about is colorblindness, which is usually genetically inherited, with a family history of colorblindness in males on mom’s side of the family. It’s typically rare to find a child who is colorblind without a family history of colorblindness, but it can be tested for in a clinical setting.

“Family history can tell us a lot when it comes to colorblindness, and it can also give us indicators on other vision problems, too, for example if there’s a strong history of children with glasses in the family ,” he said. “Many vision problems, when detected early, can be corrected and allow your children opportunities to have the best possible eyesight.”

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