As children grow, their eyes also grow. Careful attention to a child’s eye health can help to detect problems early, while their eyes are still developing. Here are 20 important things to know about kids’ eyes, and a few points parents should never ignore.
Smoking can harm an unborn child’s eyes. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk for premature birth. Premature babies are at risk to have permanent vision loss or even blindness.
For premature or underweight babies, measure the vision milestones. Your pediatrician should check your infant’s vision at each well-baby visit to make sure it is developing as it should.
During a baby’s first months, its central vision is still developing. A newborn babies can see, but they are still forming connections between their retina and their brain. As central vision develops, a baby may begin to focus on objects.
By 3 months, a baby’s eyes should focus and follow objects. In the first two months of life, an infant’s eyes may appear to cross or wander out to the sides. This is usually normal. As visual coordination improves, the baby’s eyes will work together to focus and follow a moving object. If you do not notice this happening consistently by age 3 months, you should consult an ophthalmologist.
By 5 months, babies are seen in three dimensions. At this age, babies can reach objects because they can see how far an object is from them (depth perception). They may even recognize an object.
Around 9 months, babies’ eyes have nearly achieved their final eye color. Eye color depends on the amount and distribution of a brown pigment called melanin in the iris. Light-colored eyes at birth may darken if melanin develops in the iris. It is not uncommon, however, to see slight changes in eye color during the first three years of life.
Watch for misalignment, or one eye looks straight ahead while the other eye turns inward, outward, upward, or downward. This may be a sign of strabismus. The ability of both eyes to focus on an object simultaneously continues to develop until about age 7. Be sure to seek evaluation early if you suspect a problem.
Measles is a leading cause of childhood blindness worldwide. The virus can harm the eyes and vision in numerous ways. It is important to vaccinate your child.
Keep toddlers away from cleaning products and other chemicals. Young children are prone to cause eye damage from chemicals. These burns are particularly dangerous because they can cause permanent damage to both external and internal eye structures. If a child does get chemicals in the eyes, wash them with plenty of fresh water and proceed to your nearest emergency care department.
Many school-age children are farsighted. In most cases, they do not need glasses. Children generally can accommodate by using their focusing muscles to see near and far. As they age, children’s eyes grow and lengthen, and farsightedness often improves on its own. Significant farsightedness, however, can lead to strabismus and amblyopia (“lazy eye”) if left uncorrected.
Good screen time management may lower the risk of myopia and digital eye strain. Studies have suggested that near-work activities—including screen time—may be connected to both nearsightedness and digital eye strain. To help combat this, encourage your child to follow the:
20-20-20 Rule: Look up from the screen every 20 minutes and focus at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
Three not-so-obvious signs of childhood vision problems are:
Children get cataracts too—they can be born with cataracts or develop them after birth. Without proper treatment, pediatric cataracts can cause abnormal connections between the brain and the eye that may become irreversible. The good news is your ophthalmologist can easily detect cataracts on routine examinations and if treated earlier, results are good.
Blue light from digital devices is not dangerous for your children’s eyes. But screen time should be limited late in the day to prevent sleep problems from blue light. Skip the glasses that claim to protect eyes from blue light. They lack evidence to support their claims.
Photos can help diagnose children’s eye problems and save sight. Problems may be signaled by the “red reflex” or reflection of the camera flash off the retina. A white, yellow, or black reflection in one or both eyes is abnormal and can be a warning sign for the presence of an eye condition. If you are concerned, visit an ophthalmologist.
Colorblindness is much more common in boys and the symptoms can be hard to detect. Parents may only notice a problem when a child is learning colors. One symptom is the inability to tell the difference between shades of the same or similar colors. This happens most with red and green, or blue and yellow.
Eye injuries are the most common cause of blindness in children, Regular eyeglasses and sunglasses do not offer sufficient protection from sports-related eye injuries. In fact, they can shatter on impact, causing even more damage to the eyes.
More than 90 percent of children’s eye injuries can be prevented with protective goggles. Children should wear sports eye protectors made with polycarbonate lenses for baseball, basketball, football, racquet sports, soccer, hockey, cricket, paintball, and other activities with a risk of eye injury.
Proper contact lens care is challenging for children and teens. This puts them at higher risk for serious eye infections that can cause impaired vision or even blindness.
Good vision is key to a child’s physical development, success in school, and overall well-being. Don’t skip regular vision screenings. These are important for detecting and correcting eye problems early.
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