Monitoring a child’s vision health needs to start at an early age, but expecting a small child to read an eye chart accurately is nearly impossible.

“To test kids effectively, we’ve had to depend on children being able to verbally identify the shapes or letters on the eye chart,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “That means, we’ve had to wait to test kids’ vision until they were 4 or 5 or even older. By doing that, we miss a critical window to spot potential problems.”

To remedy the situation, Eugene Pediatric Associates invested in high-tech vision screeners. The devices, which look like fancy cameras, enable pediatricians to test the eyesight of children as young as 2 years old.

“We keep the child’s attention on the vision screener for several seconds, and it’s able to accurately measure the internal angles of the lens and eye. It can then tell us if screening is within normal limits, or if this child needs a full evaluation by an eye specialist,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

Spotting potential vision problems
Vision issues in kids tend to emerge between 18 months and 4 years old. The most common problems are:

  • Strabismus: When the eyes that are not straight or do not line up with each other. If the problem is not treated, it can cause amblyopia.
  • Ambliopia: Commonly referred to as lazy eye.
  • Refractive errors: Includes nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. These are the most common cause of vision problems among school-age children and occur when the eye cannot focus light properly on the retina, which may cause blurry vision.

Recognizing the signs
The American Public Health Association estimates that about 10 percent of preschoolers have eye or vision problems. But young children often don’t know that what they’re seeing isn’t normal. Signs your child might have a vision issue include:

  • Sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
  • Squinting
  • Tilting their head
  • Frequently rubbing their eyes
  • One eye turns in or out
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination when playing ball or riding a bike
  • Avoidance of detailed activities, like coloring or puzzles

“If you notice in a photo that the red eye is not symmetrical, that you see it in one pupil but not the other, that is also a sign that there might be something off in your kid’s vision,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

If your child is exhibiting any of these signs, arrange for a visit with your health care provider. Vision issues are easier to correct when caught early.