Children's Eye Problems Q&A
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Good vision is crucial to a child's development and academic performance. Even if your child doesn't complain of trouble seeing, it's important to schedule routine eye exams for to rule out children's eye and vision problems.
Here are answers to important questions about children's eye problems.
Q. How common are children's eye problems?
A. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), one in four children in the United States has some type of eye or vision problem.
Q. What types of eye problems can children have?
A. Other than common refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism), children's eye problems include strabismus and amblyopia.
Q. What is strabismus?
A. Strabismus is misalignment of the eyes. The misalignment can be constant or intermittent, and the eye turn can be inward, causing "crossed eyes" (esotropia) or it can be outward, resulting in a "wall-eyed" appearance (exotropia).
Strabismus often is present at birth or very early in life. Approximately 2 to 5 percent of children in the United States have strabismus.
Q. How is strabismus treated?
A. In most cases, misaligned eyes are treated with strabismus surgery. The eye surgeon adjusts the positioning of one or more of the six extraocular muscles that attach to the outside of the eye and control the eye's movement and alignment.
The success rate of strabismus surgery depends on the magnitude of the eye turn and its direction (in, out, up or down) relative to the straight eye. Often, more than one strabismus surgery is required to achieve perfect eye alignment.
Sometimes, a supervised program of vision therapy is used to help straighten misaligned eyes. Vision therapy consists of a variety of eye exercises and other activities designed to improve the ability of the two eyes achieve and maintain proper alignment and work together as a team.
Vision therapy has been proven effective for certain types of mild eye teaming problems, but large and constant eye misalignments, strabismus surgery is the only effective treatment. In some cases, vision therapy is recommended after strabismus surgery to help "fine-tune" eye alignment and teaming ability.
Q. What is amblyopia?
A. Amblyopia is poor vision in an otherwise healthy and physically normal eye. Sometimes called lazy eye, amblyopia occurs when the two eyes are not used equally, causing one eye to become the dominant (clear) eye and failure of the other eye to develop normal visual acuity.
Amblyopia can be caused by unequal nearsightedness, farsightedness and/or astigmatism in the two eyes. This type of amblyopia is called refractive amblyopia or anisometropic amblyopia.
Misalignment of the eyes also can cause amblyopia. This is called strabismic amblyopia.
According to population studies, approximately 1 to 5 percent of children in the United States are affected by amblyopia.
Q. How is amblyopia treated?
A. Amblyopia is treated with eyeglasses or contact lenses, combined with eye patching (occlusion therapy). The person wears an eye patch over his or her "good" eye to force the amblyopic eye to be used so vision can improve in the affected eye.
Sometimes, rather than an eye patch, a special contact lens with an opaque zone that covers the wearer's pupil is used for occlusion therapy. Also, patching or other occlusion therapy sometimes is combined with computerized vision therapy programs to stimulate vision development in the amblyopic eye and encourage proper eye teaming.
Q. When should children have their eyes examined?
A. The AOA recommends that children have their first eye exam at six months of age. Thereafter, kids should have their eyes examined at age 3, before starting elementary school (age 5), and at least every two years during the school years.
If your child has a vision problem that requires prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses, annual eye exams are recommended.