Signs And Symptoms Of Eye Problems In Your Child

Vision problems and eye diseases affect many children. But, not all parents and children are aware of this. Read on to know more about eye problems in children and caring for your child’s eyesight.

By Susan Philip

Signs And Symptoms Of Eye Problems In Your Child

Children of all ages can be affected by eye problems. While some are easy to identify, some can be missed because neither the child nor the parents are aware of the problem. However, if you suspect that your child may have some issues with her sight, it’s important to take her to an eye hospital for the ophthalmologist to do an eye examination and take corrective action.

But before that, here are some facts you should know about eye problems in children.

Common eye problems at birth

A baby may be born with problems such as eyes that don’t look alike, strabismus (crossed eyes or squint) or droopy eyelids, where the lids don’t open as well as they should. Chalazions or small, painless bumps on eyelids, eye infections, lazy eye — where one eye can't see as clearly as the other, and becomes ‘lazy’, and myopia — not being able to see distant objects clearly, are other common eye problems in kids.

Some rare eye problems in children include, hyperopia — not being able to see objects which are close, infantile cataract and glaucoma.

If yours is a premature baby or there is a family history of eye problems, you must get your child checked at an eye hospital as soon as possible after birth, and regularly thereafter, for proper eye care. All good eye hospitals have facilities for correction or treatment of your child’s eye problems, to the extent possible.

Eye problems in infants

Some of the common eye problems in infants include:

  • Excessive tear secretion due to blocked tear ducts
  • Reddish or swollen eyelids caused by infection
  • Misalignment of eyes causing one eye to turn away from the line of vision (due to improper eye muscle control)
  • High sensitivity to light because of increased eye pressure
"Take your child to the ophthalmologist even if she shows no symptoms or signs of eye problems. You should take your child when she’s four or five years old for a baseline eye test, especially if the school doesn't have a vision screening programme. If there is a strong family history of refractive error ('power'), glaucoma (high pressure in the eyes), or blindness due to various causes, you could take your child as early as one year. It is preferable to go to a paediatric ophthalmologist who specialises in eye diseases of children. The ophthalmologist will tell you how often to bring your child for eye tests." — Dr Meenakshi Swaminathan, Senior Paediatric Ophthalmologist, Sankara Nethralaya

Red eyes in children

Red eye is a condition in which the white portion of the eye becomes red, as if filled with blood. It is also known as bloodshot eye. This is due to the expansion of the blood vessels on the surface of the eye, resulting in the red colouration of the eye along with irritation, swelling, itching and pain. Some of the common causes of red eyes in children are:

  • Allergies due to airborne allergens
  • Smoke and dust
  • Dry air
  • Exposure to chemicals
  • Overexposure to UV rays from sunlight
  • Conjunctivitis due to virus/bacteria
  • Abrasion in the cornea
  • Haemorrhage in the conjunctiva
  • Ulcer in the cornea

Although most cases of red eyes are quite harmless, if you notice that your child’s eyes are red, teary and itchy, it is always safe to take him to an ophthalmologist for consultation.

"It is quite common for children to not tell that they cannot see, especially out of one eye. If the child squeezes his eyes while watching television or objects at a distance, complains of frequent headaches, rubs eyes, seems reluctant to read, comes home with incomplete copying, or holds things too close to the eye to see, you should take him to an eye doctor. If you notice your child squinting (deviating) his eyes, or if his eyes are red, or if there is a white reflex in the pupil, take him right away to see the eye doctor." — Dr Meenakshi Swaminathan, Senior Paediatric Ophthalmologist, Sankara Nethralaya

Signs of children’s eye diseases

Your child may develop eye problems later in life too, or they may become apparent as he grows. Here are a few signs you should look out for:

In young children:

  • Constant watery eyes
  • Persistent discharge from the eyes
  • Redness of eyes
  • Frequent rubbing of eyes
  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Droopy eyelids

In older children:

  • Insisting on sitting too close to the TV
  • Holding books very close to the eyes to read
  • Tilting the head to one side constantly
  • Complaining of frequent headaches
  • Having itchy and/or watery eyes
  • Experiencing discomfort and tiredness of eyes

If you notice any of these, it’s best to fix an appointment for your child at an eye hospital. The paediatric ophthalmologist there would be able to suggest proper eye care measures.

Common FAQs regarding your child's visit to the eye doctor

Now that you know some common eyesight problems in children and some signs of eye diseases, you need to be aware of some FAQs about children's eye tests:

1. Why does my child need regular eye check-ups?

Eye problems can develop at any age. Even babies can have eye defects. However, young children may not be aware they have a problem, or be able to communicate it properly. Regular eye tests, therefore, are a must. However, getting your child’s eyes examined by a general physician or paediatrician isn't enough. Only an ophthalmologist can do proper eye tests to spot problems and potential dangers. Eye hospitals offer specialised, comprehensive eye care for your little one.

Also, vision difficulties are not the only problems associated with eyes. As your baby grows, various milestones related to the eyes have to be regularly monitored. Ophthalmologists are the best people to do this, using equipment available at eye hospitals.

2. Does my baby need eye tests even if she wasn’t born with eye problems?

Obviously, you’ll be very happy that your bundle of joy doesn’t have any eye defect. But, be aware of vision milestones. For example, between two and three months, your baby should be able to follow moving objects with her eyes. If she’s unable to do so, or meet other milestones, get her assessed at an eye hospital.

3. How often should I take my child for eye tests?

Your child’s eyes should be examined as soon as possible after birth. The frequency of further check-ups will depend on the outcome of that test. Even if the results are normal, visits to an eye hospital must be scheduled before your child begins school, and at least once in two years thereafter, provided his eyes are fine. If problems are detected, the ophthalmologist will tell you how often check-ups should be performed.

Most childhood eye problems can be corrected or cured if diagnosed early on. Also, proper diagnosis of eye-related issues is very important. So, schedule regular appointments for your little one at a reputed eye hospital where there are specialised equipment and ophthalmologists experienced in procedures like laser treatment. This will help set right problems early on and safeguard your child’s eyesight.

4. What are some common eye tests for babies? What are they done for?

The red reflex test tells doctors whether your baby could be having an eye problem.

The pupil reflex test reveals whether her pupils are able to dilate/contract in the absence/presence of light.

Further systematic eye tests reveal, among other things, whether she has age-appropriate skills for:

  • Focussing on objects
  • Following objects moving in various directions with her eyes
  • Coordinating hand–eye movements
  • Recognising colours
  • Eye tracking or moving the eye in a fixed path
  • Eye teaming or the ability to move both the eyes along a line

5. What are the different routine vision tests?

At an eye hospital, doctors will check your child’s vision acuity (sharpness of eyesight) at varying distances. They will look for problems like myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), astigmatism, squint and lazy eye. They will do tests to find out how well your child’s eyes work together to provide depth of vision. They will also screen your child for rare problems like childhood cataract and glaucoma.

6. What are the advantages of regular eye tests?

If your child has a vision problem, corrective glasses will be prescribed. Regular tests will tell the doctor whether the power of the glasses requires a change or not. Ophthalmologists may also prescribe eye exercises and provide eye care tips for both prevention and correction of problems. Regular visits to the eye hospital enable doctors to evaluate the success of these efforts.

If you have a family history of eye defects, like amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (squint), regular tests are essential for your child.

Without systematic eye tests, problems may go undetected until it is too late. This may affect your child’s overall development, including academic progress, and ultimately, her safety. Doctors at eye hospitals can diagnose problems that may arise even as your child’s eyes are developing, and take appropriate action.

7. When should I take my child to an eye hospital?

If your child complains of frequent headaches or that he cannot see clearly, or if his teachers report learning-related issues, he may be having eye problems or eye defects. Sometimes, your child may even exhibit symptoms of eye diseases or eye infections. In all these cases, it is best to plan a visit to the eye hospital and fix up an appointment immediately.

Remember, preventive eye care is also important. So even if your child does not complain of eye problems, regular eye tests are helpful.

Also Read: 10 Eye Exercises For Kids To Improve Vision Naturally

"Reddening, watering and itching of eyes may be symptoms of eye allergy. Constant rubbing of eyes can lead to serious vision-threatening eye problems, and needs an eye doctor’s attention immediately. Kids who use gadgets excessively can develop dry eyes which may also cause red eyes. A detailed examination of the eyes by an expert will reveal the cause and help you with the correct treatment." — Dr Meenakshi Swaminathan, Senior Paediatric Ophthalmologist, Sankara Nethralaya

How to choose the best eye hospital for your child

The eyes are one of the most important sense organs. Children today spend a lot of time in front of the TV, computer or smartphone screens. This could lead to vision problems. If you feel that it's time to take your child to an ophthalmologist, first find out which eye hospitals are conveniently located. Check out the websites of these hospitals. Here are some points you need to look for while choosing an eye hospital for your child:

NABH accreditation

The National Accreditation Board for Hospitals and Healthcare Providers has prescribed a set of standards, and evaluates hospitals on the basis of these. If the eye hospital you are considering has NABH accreditation, it means it has met the board’s high standards and is armed with the necessary infrastructure and experts.

Expertise of the ophthalmologists

Hospital websites will list the doctors and consultants on their rolls. The list will have the qualifications of the ophthalmologists alongside their names. Look at how highly qualified, experienced and rated they are.

Expertise in specific problem areas

There are many types of eye problems. All eye hospitals conduct vision tests and deal with common problems like myopia. But if you know that your little one is suffering from a specific issue like lazy eye, check the hospital website to find out if it has doctors with expertise in the field, and equipment necessary for treatment.

Ambience of the hospital

Ask people who have visited the eye hospital you are considering about their experience there. Find out about the ease of treatment. The registration process, the waiting time, the helpfulness of the staff, the general atmosphere, and satisfaction with treatment are things you need to understand.

Insurance eligibility

If your child has health insurance, check whether eye diseases, particularly your child’s problem, are covered, and ensure that the chosen eye hospital is listed on it.

Many childhood eye problems can be easily corrected. On the other hand, they could be worsened by delay or incorrect handling. A visit to an eye hospital is the best option if you think your child has vision-related issues, whether simple or complicated. Eye hospitals provide comprehensive, specialised tests, diagnosis and treatment facilities under one roof. So, make a visit to the best eye hospital you can find, and schedule an eye exam for your kid to ensure her eye health. You owe it to the apple of your eye!  

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube