Eye Problems in Children
It’s rare for a child to develop serious eye problems, but routine checks for babies and children can identify any problems at an early stage.
What eye problems regularly occur in children?
There are a number of common eye problems that children suffer from, including:
Strabismus – turned-in eyes or turned-out eyes, or a squint
Chalazion – minor swelling of the eyelid
Amblyopia – lazy eye
Epiphora – watery eye
Refractive error – needing stronger glasses
How do I spot signs of an eye problem in my child?
Your child will receive regular eye tests in their first few years, but it’s still essential to look for any signs or symptoms and get advice where necessary.
Signs of a potential eye problem include:
- Eyes pointing in different directions
- Hand-Eye co-ordination problems
- Being unusually clumsy
- Sitting too close to the TV
- Having problems reading, needing to hold books close
- Rubbing their eyes regularly
If you have any concerns, speak to your GP or optician in the first instance. If necessary, they will refer you to an eye specialist such as myself, for further advice and possible treatment.
Refractive errors in children
Refractive errors can cause a child to have blurry vision and trouble seeing short or long distances, or in some cases, both. If a child suffers with this for a long period of time, they can develop a lazy eye or even lose vision. Refractive errors are relatively easy to treat, usually with the use of stronger prescription glasses.
Amblyopia (Lazy Eye) in children
Amblyopia or lazy eye, is caused when one or both eyes do not develop vision properly. There are a number of conditions that cause a lazy eye, including a squint or cataracts.
Strabismus (Squint) in children
This is when the eyes point in different directions. While one eye points forward, the other looks up, down, inwards or outwards. The brain will try to avoid double vision by ignoring the image from the eye that does look forward, but this can stop the eye developing vision correctly.
Cataracts in children
A cataract is when the eye’s lens develops cloudy patches. Over time, these increase in size, causing blurry vision and eventual blindness. Cataracts generally affect older adults, but it is possible for a baby to be born with what’s known as congenital cataracts, or for a child to develop infantile or juvenile cataracts.
It is very rare for children and babies to have cataracts and they affect an estimated 3 or 4 in every 10,000 children in the UK. It’s not always possible to identify their cause, but possible causes include; a genetic fault that has been inherited, a genetic condition such as Down’s syndrome, certain infections such as rubella or chickenpox caught during pregnancy or an injury to the eye after birth.
Cataracts in children treatment
Childhood cataracts are usually minor, but if they are affecting your child’s vision they can affect normal sight development. When this happens, you will be referred to a paediatric eye surgeon who will usually recommend surgery to remove the affected lens, followed by insertion of a replacement lens or long-term use of glasses or contact lenses.
The operation itself takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the child’s age and most children can be treated as a day case. If your child has cataracts in both eyes, we will usually operate on each eye separately, to allow for healing and also reduce the risk of complications. These operations will be carried out a week apart and you and your child can go home in between.
Childhood cataract surgery aftercare
After surgery, your child will be given eyedrops that will help to reduce swelling and inflammation. You’ll need to put these into your child’s eyes every 2 to 4 hours.
Most children will need to wear contact lenses or glasses after surgery, because the treated eye/s will be unable to focus properly on their own. These are usually also needed if an artificial lens has been fitted, because these can only focus on distant objects.
I will have regular follow-ups with your child to continue to monitor their vision. You will also have regular check-ups with an optometrist to monitor how your child’s vision is developing and adjust the glasses or contact lenses as needed.
Some children may require a laser procedure, called YAG laser capsulotomy, to open up the lens capsule that may thicken with time as part of the physiological healing process. If your child has an eye problem, please contact me for further information and to discuss treatment options.