I Spy With My Little Eye

Playing peek-a-boo, devouring the first Harry Potter book or scoring a goal for the team – good eye health and vision are critical for a child to experience and enjoy the world.

From birth to age 10, the area of a child’s brain responsible for vision is still developing. That’s why it’s important to have a child’s eyes checked regularly, as many eye disorders and vision problems can be treated successfully if diagnosed early.

Q: When should I start taking my baby for regular vision tests?

A: Newborn babies should have their eyes examined right after birth. Your pediatrician will include a vision screening at every well-child visit. Once your child is old enough to cooperate (usually at 3 to 4 years), the doctor will use an eye chart to test. If the doctor detects a problem, s/he will refer your child to an ophthalmologist or optometrist.

Parents often worry that their child is too young to cooperate with an eye exam, but most pediatric eye doctors can get creative with a variety of kid-friendly techniques, using toys, games and videos to ensure a thorough exam.

Q: I just found out my 2-year-old daughter has “lazy eye.” What is this and can it be treated?

A: Your daughter is not alone. “Lazy eye,” also known as amblyopia, is so common that it accounts for more vision loss in children than all other causes put together. It happens when one eye sends blurry images to the brain. Over time, the brain learns to only see fuzzy images with that eye.

The good news is that by seeing a pediatric ophthalmologist for early intervention, your daughter’s lazy eye can be treated to correct her vision. She will need to wear glasses to correct the focusing ability of her eye. 

An eye patch or eye drops can also be used to block vision from the eye that the brain has been relying on for vision. Without signals from the eye the brain has favored, the brain is forced to use the other eye and relearn clear vision.


Q: I’ve noticed that my 4-year-old son goes a little cross-eyed sometimes. Should I be concerned?

A: If you notice something different about your son’s eyes, talk to his pediatrician. 

A misalignment of the eyes (strabismus) includes crossed or floating eyes and causes visual signals to the brain to shut off, resulting in poor vision development. There are many different types of strabismus; one eye, for example, may turn in, out, up or down. 

Treatment is very effective and usually involves glasses, eye patches and eye exercises. With proper treatment, surgery is rarely needed.


Q: Someone in my daughter’s kindergarten class always seems to have pink eye. How can she avoid getting it?

A: Pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis, is an infection caused by a virus or bacteria. As the name indicates, the whites of the eyes look pink or red; you may also notice yellow or green discharge coming from the eyes.

Regular and thorough hand-washing is the best way to avoid this condition. It is usually not serious, but can be rather uncomfortable and unsightly. Occasionally, antibiotic eye drops are required.

If the white part of the eye looks pink or red for more than a week or two, or if your child has sensitivity to light, talk to your doctor, as this could indicate a more serious problem.


Q: My daughter has a learning disability. I’ve heard that certain types of vision training might help her do better at school. Is that true?

A: There is no scientific evidence to support that claim. But your daughter will benefit from an individualized learning evaluation, tutoring and teaching techniques tailored to her specific needs. 

Of course, you should make sure your daughter sees her doctor, who will detect any possible vision problems and refer her to a specialist, if necessary. 


Q: I have rambunctious twin boys. What’s the best way to keep their eyes and vision safe?

A: It’s always a good idea to take simple precautions to prevent eye injuries. Make sure sharp household items, gardening or other tools and household cleaners are stored away securely. If your boys ever get chemical substances in their eyes, flush their eyes and face with any available source of water for at least 10 to 15 minutes, then head to the nearest urgent care department.

Almost half of all eye injuries happen during sports and recreational activities. If your twins play a sport in which the ball is moving quickly, such as soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball or lacrosse, consider getting them protective sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses that won’t shatter. And of course, always make sure they wear required face shields.


Carol Winton, M.D., is a pediatric ophthalmologist at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Vision Care Center in Sunnyvale. Advice is not intended to take the place of an exam or diagnosis by a physician.


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