young girl wearing glasses

Visual problems in children can often be difficult to recognize because children aren’t necessarily aware there is a problem. Eye exams are a part of yearly well-child visits with the pediatrician and are used to identify visual problems. These screenings can be a good indicator of whether or not your child may have an eye condition that requires treatment, but they should not replace a full eye exam by an eye doctor.

During a visit to the pediatrician, the doctor or nurse will perform a basic visual exam. The visual exam varies based on age, but will typically include number and letter identification and may require eye drops. The guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics state three causes for a referral to an ophthalmologist:

  1. If the child has 20/30 vision or less
  2. A two-line difference between eyes
  3. Family history of childhood eye conditions

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Signs Your Child May Have Vision Problems

In addition to an eye exam, there are a few indicators that a child may be having vision problems. Signs include:

  • Squinting
  • Closing one eye
  • Eye rubbing
  • Headaches
  • Excess tearing

The American Optometric Association recommends that children have comprehensive eye exams by an optometrist or ophthalmologist by the age of three. The exam will include a full diagnostic review of your child’s eye health and can help ensure that his or her vision is developing correctly.

A second exam should be conducted at age five or six, around the time your child will be starting kindergarten. These visual exams are important because they allow for early detection of visual problems and more serious eye conditions.

The UPMC Eye Center has a team of optometrists and ophthalmologists trained in the identification and treatment of pediatric eye conditions. Christin Sylvester, DO, explains some of the most common problems pediatric ophthalmologists treat include:

  • Amblyopia or lazy eye- decreased vision in one or both eyes that may be due to strabismus, refractive errors, or pathology in the eye.
  • Vision disorders- associated with genetic diseases and diseases of the metabolism, the nervous system, and the immune system.
  • Cataracts– a clouding of the lens of the eye
  • Glaucoma– a buildup of fluid in the eye that can lead to damage of the optic nerve
  • Refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism)
  • Strabismus-a condition in which the eyes do not line up in the same direction

At the point of diagnosis the eye doctor can make appropriate treatment recommendations. A number of the common pediatric eye diseases can be treated through glasses, eye drops, or an eye patch. Additionally, when these conditions are identified early, the progression of the disease can be slowed or potentially even stopped.

For more information about pediatric ophthalmology or to schedule an appointment at the UPMC Eye Center, call 412-647-2200.

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.