Children should get a full eye examination when they are between 3 and 5 years old, but it's important they see their doctors for regular checkups, including vision checks, starting at birth.
One of the reasons regular vision checks are so important is amblyopia, or lazy eye, which is the most common cause of decreased vision in children. Amblyopia often develops between birth and age 7, but early treatment can help children overcome the condition.
While some children show symptoms of amblyopia that are obvious to parents and caretakers, some children who have a lazy eye don't exhibit any outward symptoms. For these children, the only way to detect amblyopia early enough to get effective treatment is through a comprehensive eye examination.
If your child does show symptoms of amblyopia, one of the first things you might notice is an eye that seems to wander inward or outward independent of the other eye. Some kids with a lazy eye have poor depth perception as well.
Because amblyopia tends to affect only one eye, children who develop the condition may squint or shut the bad eye or tilt their heads to one side to help them focus, particularly when they try to concentrate on something.
Causes and Factors
Anything that causes one of the eyes to wander or makes it harder for the eyes to work together can cause amblyopia. When there are vision problems from a young age, the nerve pathways between the retina and the brain are altered, which results in the lazy eye getting fewer signals. Over time, the brain starts to ignore images that come in through the weak eye.
Many children develop lazy eye due to a muscle imbalance between the eyes. If the muscles that move the eyes aren't properly balanced, the eyes can turn inward or outward, which makes it difficult or impossible for them to work together.
Some children develop amblyopia due to significant vision differences between the eyes. This type of amblyopia is often due to farsightedness, but it can also be caused by nearsightedness or astigmatism.
Babies who are born premature or who are smaller than average at birth have a greater risk of developing amblyopia. Children who have other developmental disabilities and those who have a family history of lazy eye are also more likely to have the condition.
Prompt, thorough treatment is essential for any child diagnosed with lazy eye. Without treatment, amblyopia can result in permanent vision loss.
Treatment for amblyopia is typically focused on correcting the issue that led to the lazy eye in the first place, helping the eyes work together, and forcing the brain to use the input from both eyes.
The most common treatment for amblyopia involves blocking one eye completely or partially so that the brain begins to allow and interpret signals from the weak eye that has been ignored. Many doctors recommend a child with lazy eye wear a patch over the strong eye. It's important to wear the patch for as long as instructed, which can be for several waking hours at a time.
Some children respond better to glasses with a patch or filter over one of the lenses instead of a patch worn directly over the eye. Glasses or contacts can also correct nearsightedness and farsightedness to improve vision and correct any underlying cause of amblyopia.
Children who don't tolerate wearing an eye patch or glasses often respond better to medicated eye drops. These drops go in the strong eye and work by blurring the vision in that eye. This forces the brain to allow signals from the weaker eye and helps encourage the eyes to work together.
In rare cases, children may need surgery to correct an underlying problem that contributes to amblyopia, such as cataracts. Surgical treatment to straighten the eyes may be an option if your child's eyes don't stay in place with the correct eyewear.
Youth Dental & Vision serves pediatric dental and vision clients in the greater Denver metro area with offices in Denver, Aurora, and Thornton, Colorado. If your child is due for an eye exam or is experiencing any vision symptoms, contact us today to schedule an appointment.