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Understanding your Child's Vision

What is vision?

Vision is the ability to see. To have vision, your child needs light, and well-developed eyes and brain. The eye is made of different parts that work together. They take the image reflected by light, focus it properly, and then send this message to the brain. At birth, this visual system is not yet fully developed. The parts of the visual system develop at different times until eight years of age. Vision becomes clearer and sharper as the child grows.

What are the parts of the eye and how do they work?

  • The outside clear layer in the front of your eye is the cornea. Around the cornea is the white part called the sclera. Light rays enter your eye through the cornea as they bounce off the object you are looking at. The light then passes through the pupil, which is the black circle in the middle of the iris. The iris is the colored part of your eye. This controls how much light is needed as it goes into the eye for you to see well. The iris closes the pupil in bright light and opens it when the light is dim.
  • Behind the iris is a clear lens that changes shape as you look at objects at different distances. Light goes through this lens on its way to the retina at the back of the eye. The retina is a special layer of nerves on the back inside wall of your eyeball. The retina turns the light rays into images or pictures and sends them to the brain as impulses (signals). The brain combines the images that each eye sees to make one picture. It also helps you understand what you are seeing.

What eye problems may affect my child's vision and how are they treated?

Problems with vision often occur along with conditions affecting one or more parts of the eye. To know these, your child's caregiver may do certain tests to check your child's eyes. Treatment will be based on what is causing your child's vision problem and which will work best for him. Ask your child's caregiver for more information on the following conditions and their treatment:

  • Amblyopia: This is also called lazy eye. One eye has poorer vision than the other. This happens when the brain receives unequal messages from the two eyes and favors one eye instead of both. Wearing glasses or a patch over the good eye usually helps correct this condition.
  • Color blindness: The eyes are unable to see or differentiate some or all colors. Color blindness may run in families or as a result of injury to the eyes, nerves, or brain. In children, color blindness happens more commonly in boys than girls.
  • Eye infections: Infections may be caused by different kinds of germs, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Swelling in the eye often occurs in children less than two years of age due to the smaller opening of the tear ducts (canals).
  • Refractive errors: This is also called errors of refraction (EOR). Problems in the way the eye is built affect the eyes' ability to focus the image correctly. Eyeglasses or contact lenses can correct the problem. Surgery, such as laser, may also be used especially in severe cases.
    • Anisometropia: This condition happens when your child have different EOR grades between the two eyes.
    • Astigmatism: This condition is marked by an uneven and curved cornea, instead of being round and smooth. This causes a distorted vision for both near and far objects. Your child may have astigmatism along with myopia or hyperopia.
    • Hyperopia: This is also called farsightedness. Objects that are far away are clearly seen by your child while the ones near him are blurred. This happens when the eye is shorter than normal so light gets focused behind the retina.
    • Myopia: This is also called nearsightedness. Objects near your child are clearly seen but he has trouble seeing things far from him. Myopia happens when the eye is longer and more oval than normal. This causes the light to be focused in front of the retina.
  • Strabismus: This is also called squint, crossed eyes, or wall eyes. The eyes do not point in the same direction or do not move together at the same time. This causes one eye to be turned in or out. Babies' eyes may sometimes cross during their first few months of life.

What are the signs that my child has a vision problem?

Your child may have trouble seeing things if he does any of the following:

  • Blinks or rubs his eyes a lot.
  • Does not make steady eye contact or his eyes wander.
  • Eyes look crossed or one seems to be going the wrong way.
  • Holds things very close to his eyes when looking at them.
  • Shuts or covers up one eye when trying to see something.
  • Squints or frowns while looking at objects.

How can I keep my child's eyes healthy?

  • Have your child's eyes checked regularly: It is important to have a complete eye exam regularly. This includes tests that may help learn about your child's vision and check for signs of eye problems. Caregivers recommend that a child's eyes be screened before he starts going to school, usually at 4 to 5 years of age. Children with a high risk of developing eye problems may need to have eyes checks earlier and more often. These include children that were born premature (early), or had a disease or condition affecting the brain. Ask your child's caregiver for more information about eye checks.
  • Prevent eye injuries: Have your child wear safety glasses, eye shields, or goggles as needed in activities, such as sports. If your child wears contact lenses, make sure the lenses are properly used, cleaned, and stored. Know when and how long the lenses can be used. Contact lenses should not be worn longer than the time advised by caregivers, or when not needed.

What should I do if my child has an eye injury?

The following are first aid treatments for some of the common eye injuries. Make sure to have a caregiver check your child's eye right away. Any eye injury may be more serious than what it seems.

  • Blows: If your child's eye gets hit, apply cold cloths on his eye for 15 minutes. This will help decrease swelling, pain, and redness around the eye.
  • Cuts or punctures: If an object gets stuck in your child's eye, do not pull it out or try to remove it. Put a loose bandage on your child's eye.
  • Chemical burns: If a chemical gets into your child's eye, wash it out with water for at least 10 minutes. Chemicals may include cleaning fluid.
  • Foreign object: Wash your child's eye with water if sand, dust, or other foreign objects get into his eye. Make sure he does not rub his eye.

Where can I find more information?

Contact the following for more information:

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology
    655 Beach St.
    San Francisco , CA 94109
    655 Beach St.
    San Francisco , CA 94120-7424
    Phone: 1- 415 - 561-8500
    Web Address:
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
    141 Northwest Point Boulevard
    Elk Grove Village , IL 60007-1098
    Phone: 1- 847 - 434-4000
    Web Address:
  • National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health
    202 Vision Pl.
    Bethesda , MD 20892-3655
    Phone: 1- 301 - 496-5248
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.