August is Children’s Eye Health and Safety Month. Here are five things to know about your child’s vision:
1. It starts with the eyes and the brain
A newborn baby’s vision continues to develop through early and middle childhood. From the first day you look into those precious eyes, your baby begins to create essential connections between the eyes and brain, which will allow vision to develop focus, eye-hand coordination, depth-perception, and color vision. As months pass, your baby will be able to recognize expressions such as happiness or anger and try to reach out and touch a close person or object. Given how critical these connections are, it is important to ensure your child has healthy vision to positively impact the early stages of development. Nearly half of the human brain is devoted to some form of visual function.
2. Prevalence of eye diseases in children
In the largest pediatric eye disease study conducted in America, led by USC Roski Eye Institute Director Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, and a team of researchers, the Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study (MEPEDS) assessed more than 9,000 Los Angeles-area children ages 6 months to 6 years old. Findings include:
- Incidence of childhood myopia (nearsightedness, which is the inability to see objects clearly at a distance) among American children has more than doubled over the last 50 years
- 4 to 14 percent of children overall are found to have moderate hyperopia (farsightedness, which is the inability to see objects clearly up close)
- Prevalence of hyperopia is highest in Hispanic (26.9 percent) and Non-Hispanic White children (25.7 percent), but lower in African American children (20.8 percent) and Asian children (13.5 percent)
- Children with moderate levels of hyperopia were associated with the development of both amblyopia (lazy eye or poor visual development in an eye) and strabismus (misalignment of the eyes)
“While research shows there is a genetic component, the rapid incidence of myopia in the matter of a few decades, particularly among Asians, suggests that close work and use of mobile devices and screens on a daily basis, combined with a lack of outdoor activities and sunlight, may be the real culprit behind these dramatic increases. More research is needed to uncover how environmental and behavioral factors may affect the development and progression of eye disease,” says Varma.
3. Poor Vision could lead to developmental delays
If uncorrected, vision problems may lead to cognitive and social problems. As a child begins to engage in social settings and is unable to recognize facial expressions or other social cues, the results might be inappropriate emotional responses and learning deficiencies. In a National Eye Institute-funded study, researchers reported a literacy deficiency in children with uncorrected farsightedness. Most notably in this study, children with moderate farsightedness and reduced near visual function such as depth perception, had significant challenges distinguishing letters and words.
4. Common eye diseases and conditions in children
- Amblyopia (lazy eye)
- Strabismus (eye misalignment)
- Uncorrected refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism)
- Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
- Ptosis (droopy eyelid)
- Color vision disorders
5. Early vision screening and what to look for
Eye exams at an early age are essential to prevent developmental delays and ensure that children have healthy vision. According to the American Association of Ophthalmology guidelines, see an eye care professional for your child if you observe:
- Misalignment of eyes, crossed or a wandering eye
- Child is squinting, unable to view objects at a distance
- Child is unable to read up close
- Swelling, redness, irritation or drooping in one or both eyes
- Child is unable to distinguish colors
- There is a history childhood vision issues
“If you have any concern at all about your child’s eyes or vision, get them examined as soon as possible. In certain cases, children may develop amblyopia, which is one of the most common eye conditions treated in children. Childhood amblyopia or poor vision in one or both eyes is due to the brain “tuning out” or ignoring the images seen by the eyes. Amblyopia can cause permanent vision loss and loss of depth perception, and is much more successfully treated at younger ages,” says Sudha Nallasamy, MD, pediatric ophthalmologist and assistant professor of clinical ophthalmology at USC.
Timely diagnosis and treatment interventions of pediatric eye conditions can positively impact the long-term eye health and well-being of a child. Receive skilled treatment tailored to your child’s unique needs from the pediatric ophthalmologists at USC Roski Eye Institute, either online at eye.keckmedicine.org or by calling 800-USC-CARE (800-872-2273).