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Your Health: Child vision problems — worth looking into

Q. Do children need to have eye screenings or exams?

A. A child should have his/her first eye screening at age 3. If there are no vision problems in the family, have the child’s eyes rechecked every two years. Most often, vision problems in children are not obvious and the best way to catch them early is through routine screenings. Scheduling your child for an eye exam helps detect possible problems in early stages when they are most treatable.

Q. Do children have any symptoms that indicate vision problems?

A. Children may show symptoms related to an infection or other issues. If the child has more than one of these symptoms, make an appointment with your optometrist regardless of the child’s age. Symptoms to watch for include: swelling, redness, crusty or pus-like discharge, unexplainable or constant tears, closing of the eye more often, light sensitivity, drooping lids and a white, yellow or grayish color in the pupil.

Q. Can infants have vision problems?

A. Vision problems in young children tend to become evident by 18 months. Infants only see objects clearly that are 8 to 10 inches from their face. By 12 to 16 weeks, their eyesight improves and they see things at greater distances. Over the next year, depth perception, eye-body coordination and distance evaluation continue to improve. This is normal development and it varies among children. Children this age rarely have vision problems, but it is possible. If you don’t see the infant’s sight, depth perception and coordination continually improving, call your optometrist and share your concerns.

Q. What types of problems are children most likely to develop?

A. Lazy eye is the primary cause of decreased vision in children and it can occur as early as infancy. Usually it affects one eye, but it can affect both. Medically known as amblyopia, it is the result of abnormal visual development where nerve pathways between the brain and the eye don’t get proper stimulation. So the brain favors one eye, and the weaker eye tends to wander. Untreated lazy eye can lead to permanent vision loss. A vision screening will detect lazy eye and other problems such as crossed or wandering eyes. These are not always an obvious abnormality easily seen by parents.

Q. What is the treatment for these conditions?

A. Your child may need a temporary eye patch, eye drops and/or glasses. Treatment lasts until the weak eye is better. Covering the strong eye with a patch forces the weak eye to improve. Essentially though, this initially reduces a child’s ability to see. The child is likely to be frustrated and temperamental at first. It’s important to remember that you are helping the child restore eyesight, which might otherwise be permanently impaired. The child’s vision will improve if you help him/her understand the importance of treatment and comply with the optometrist’s recommendations.

Dr. Sara Fredrickson is an optometrist at Sanford Bemidji Downtown Eye Center and Optical. Fredrickson obtained her medical degree from Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. She is certified by the National Board of Examiners of Optometry and specializes in head trauma, brain injuries, stroke and motor vehicle accident injury. She is originally from Bemidji .