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Vision Problems

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Middle childhood is often first time when children's vision problems become noticeable, in large part because this is the first time in children's lives when they are actively engaged in schoolwork and in classroom environments where they must be able to see and read the blackboard, computer monitor or books they have been assigned. At this time, children with vision problems may start to complain that they cannot see or cannot easily read what they need to be seeing and reading.

open book with eyeglassesNot all children with vision problems will think to comment on them to adults. In some cases, children will simply start squinting a lot, or try to adjust their physical position (e.g., by moving too close to the TV or computer screen, by bringing books right up to their faces) so as to compensate for vision problems. As well, children's grades may drop (because they can't see the blackboard or computer screen), they may act out (because they are unable to concentrate or are upset that they can't do the work), or they may begin having accidents (e.g, tripping, being hit with baseballs, etc., again because they cannot see properly) without letting caregivers know the reasons why such behaviors are occurring. In addition, some children develop headaches, dry eyes, or other physical symptoms which are related to vision problems. Parents and teachers both should be on the lookout for such behaviors, unexplained performance deficits and/or complaints and be willing to interpret them as possible symptoms of a vision problem. Any child who seems to be having difficulty seeing should be examined by an ophthalmologist or optometrist (e.g., an eye doctor) who can accurately measure children's vision difficulties and offer treatment in the form of corrective lenses.

Children can experience one or more of the following vision problems: myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism. Myopia, or nearsightedness, causes children to have difficulty seeing objects which are far away. In contrast, hyperopia, or farsightedness, causes children to have problems seeing objects close up. Children may also develop astigmatism, or irregular curvature of the eye's cornea or lens, resulting in blurry vision. In children, myopia, hyperopia, and severe astigmatism normally are treated with a prescription for corrective lenses, which can take the form of eye glasses or contact lenses. Laser vision correction surgeries are not appropriate for children, as their eyes continue to develop and change until they reach adulthood.

Doctors normally recommend that young children use eyeglasses as a treatment for vision problems rather than contact lenses, as contact lenses are much harder to properly maintain and can cause major eye problems if not used appropriately. Even though glasses require less maintenance than contacts, it's still important for children to learn how to care for them. Keeping track of glasses, cleaning them regularly, and storing them in an appropriate place when not in use are all important lessons that children need to master.

It's important for children with vision problems to see their eye doctor on a regular basis so that any vision changes and problems can be monitored and prescriptions can be adjusted as proves necessary. The American Optometric Association recommends that all school-aged children (not just those who wear glasses) receive annual eye exams.