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Spotting Eye Problems in Kids: What to Look Out For

Eye problems in kids can be hard to spot, and children are not always able to articulate the health problems they're experiencing. If they're very young, they may not even know or be able to communicate that their vision is impaired. This is why parents need to know how to spot the signs of both common and more unusual eye problems before they become harder to treat.

According to experts, eye problems are far easier to diagnose and treat when a child's vision is still developing (which happens at around seven or eight years of age). Here are some of the signs to look out for.

Girl with glasses

Eye problems in kids: what are the signs?

The younger your child is, the more difficult eye problems can be to spot. Children under three can't usually identify eye problems by themselves, especially if they can't talk yet. Because your child cannot always tell you when they're experiencing difficulties with their vision, parents need to know the signs.

Signs that could indicate eye problems in toddlers include:

  • Sensitivity to light, both indoors and outside
  • Covering one of both of their eyes
  • Eyes that look misaligned
  • Rubbing eyes consistently
  • Tilting their head a lot
  • Avoiding focus activities like colouring and puzzles
  • Squinting when looking at detailed objects
  • Clumsiness, difficulty getting around

In children of school age and older, the signs may be slightly different, and they may be able to verbalise what they're experiencing. In general, signs your older child may be having trouble with their vision include:

  • Complaints of frequent tiredness and headaches
  • Difficulty reading, such as having to hold books very close to their face or losing their place often
  • Eyes pointing in different directions
  • Issues with hand-eye co-ordination, such as problems playing ball games
  • Clumsiness
  • Frequent eye rubbing

What should you do if you suspect your child has eye problems?

If you're concerned that your child could have eye problems, it's important to consult an eye doctor. Your toddler could need glasses, or they may have an eye disorder that requires treatment.

Common eye problems in kids may include allergies, conjunctivitis, amblyopia ("lazy eye"), refractive errors (such as myopia, also known as "nearsightedness") or crossed eyes. Some of these issues require treatment from a doctor, so always book an appointment with an optician or ophthalmologist if you're unsure.

Even if your child displays none of the signs of having eye problems, it's still a good idea to take your child for regular eye exams. Experts at All About Vision suggest taking your child for an eye exam when they are six months old to check that their vision is developing properly. After that, young children should have another routine eye exam at three and six years old.

You should also make sure eye injuries, such as bruising or debris in the eye, are looked at by a doctor. You should not try to treat the eye at home, as this could make the problem worse. You can avoid your child developing eye problems later by seeking immediate medical attention after an eye injury.

Eye tests are free on the NHS for children under sixteen, and for young people under nineteen in full-time education.

What happens if eye problems in kids go untreated?

Untreated eye problems in kids can get worse over time, and they may eventually result in partial or complete loss of sight. Whatever visual problems your child is experiencing, an early diagnosis will make it possible for them to access care and for you to enlist any support services they may need.

Has your child had eye problems? If so, what were the telltale signs? Leave your comments below.