Common Children’s Eye Conditions

My particular interest is children’s eye complaints and in this article I will touch on those that are particularly common and important. This article is not meant to replace the advice of your GP or eye specialist. Children are not just young adults and require their own specific eye care and management. Parents, teachers, and others involved with children will find this article relevant.

What are common children’s eye conditions?

Probably the most important and one of the more common conditions is something called amblyopia. This basically means one eye doesn’t develop vision as well as the other. About 4% of children will fail to develop their full visual potential in one eye. It is therefore very important to pick this up at an age where treatment can help. Amblyopia can be caused by the affected eye needing a spectacle correction, having a squint or having something interrupt/block the normal passage of light rays from the front to the back of the eye. Unfortunately very often the child doesn’t complain of blurring of vision and the parents have no clue as to its development. For this reason, in my opinion, it is mandatory for all children to have their eyes examined/screened at around 4 years of age. Schools and pre-schools should have visual screening programmes but some still don’t. Orthoptists are trained to perform this vital job.

What is a squint?

It is when there is a mal-alignment of the eyes. I.e. when one eye points in a different direction to the other. The most common types are either a turn in or a turn out. This can be either intermittent (occurring only sometimes) or constant. It is again very important to be picked up early and seen to by an ophthalmologist or orthoptist as it can lead to permanent loss of depth perception and even amblyopia. Squints are managed by glasses, orthoptic exercises or sometimes surgery.

Particular problems in the older child and adolescent are “refractive errors” (needing glasses) which are important causes of visual discomfort/eye-strain in this age group. They should be suspected if headaches are brought on by visual effort or if reading vision is better than distance vision. Please consult your optician if your have any concerns. Allergies affecting the eyes are also very common in this age group and can be very troublesome. The eyes tend to be itchy and irritable and there is often associated hay fever. Specific anti-allergy eye-drops can alleviate this.

Unopened tear ducts causing a watery and sticky eye is common in newborns and under 1 year-olds. Premature newborn babies are at high risk of retinal problems (“Retinopathy of Prematurity”) and should be screened – speak to your paediatrician. Please contact your ophthalmologist if you need any further advice.

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