Your child’s vision is an essential source of information about the world around them. Healthy vision is critical to their social development, school success and overall well-being. That’s why keeping tabs on signs that your child’s vision is changing is important.
How will my child’s vision change as they grow?
As your child grows, their eyes change quickly—especially in the first few years of life.
“Many aspects of vision are developing in infants and toddlers, including the ability to see fine details and depth perception,” Dr. Bhakta said. “Children are also learning to focus their eyes and track objects more accurately.”
Your child’s eyes will grow the fastest when they are between the ages of 6 to 18 years old. The most common vision problems are refractive errors like nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. A need for glasses can develop during the years your child is growing. For example, myopia (nearsightedness) might occur when the eye grows faster than average.
Refractive errors occur when the shape of your eye keeps light from focusing correctly on your retina (the light-sensitive tissue in the back of your eye). This can make it harder to see things a further distance away (nearsightedness or myopia), see things that are nearer (farsightedness or hyperopia) or cause objects up close and far away to look blurry (astigmatism).
Other issues that can occur with your child’s eyes and vision include amblyopia, when the eye hasn't developed good vision due to a strong glasses prescription or eye turn, or strabismus, which is misaligned eyes – the eyes can cross in or drift out.
Six ways to protect and improve your child’s eyesight
Consider these tips to protect your child’s eyes from an early age and into the future.
“The American Optometric Association recommends children get their first complete eye exam between the age of 6 months and 1 year of age, and the American Academy of Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommends newborns to age 1 year be screened by their health care provider and then referred if there are concerns,” Dr. Bhakta said.
Many eye conditions run in families. If you or someone in your family has an ocular or vision condition, let your child’s provider or eye specialist know.
Maintain a healthy diet. As with every part of the body, nutrition can go a long way in ensuring the long-term health of your child’s eyes and growth. Encourage them to eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins and limit their intake of processed and junk foods.
Green leafy vegetables are abundant in vitamins A, C and E, which are important for developing and maintaining healthy vision.
Water is also important. Encourage your child to drink plenty of water throughout the day, so their body and eyes don’t become dehydrated.
Spend time outdoors. “Time outdoors, with a goal of 90 minutes to two hours a day, has shown to help prevent nearsightedness, this is especially in those with a family history of the condition,” Dr. Bhakta said.
Limit screen time. Screen time is a part of everyone’s lives, but it’s important to limit your child’s time on a tablet or phone or watching TV.
“It’s much more beneficial for young children to interact with the world around them and play than be on a screen,” Dr. Bhakta said. “There should be a mix of indoor and outdoor activities. Breaks during screen time are very important for the eyes and the rest of the body.”
Digital devices can cause symptoms of eye fatigue, blurry vision, dry eye, headaches and eye strain. Excessive blue light has also been shown to mess with sleep. Aim to put away devices about one hour before bedtime to allow your child to unwind.
Wear eye protection. Sunglasses or transition lenses in eyeglasses offer protection to the eyes just like sunscreen protects the skin.
“Most of our UV light exposure occurs in childhood,” Dr. Bhakta said. “UV light exposure can cause issues with the delicate skin around the eyes and is linked to a variety of eye diseases when we are older.”
It is recommended that your child wear protective eyewear when playing sports that have a risk of eye injury. Goggles and face masks can safeguard their eyes.
Watch for signs of vision problems. Children rarely complain about vision problems. Often, they believe everyone sees the world the way they do.
Vision problems are one of the most common disabling conditions in childhood. Here are some signs and symptoms to watch out for:
- Eye crossing in or drifting out, even if occasionally
- Covering or closing one eye
- Frequent headaches, especially after using their eyes (reading, homework or electronics)
- Adopting a change in head position (a turn or tilt) when looking at things.
Identifying issues with eye health and vision at a young age is critical. Problems are easier to correct when treatment starts early.
Good eyesight can affect how we learn and interact with the world around us. Good eye care and regular eye exams can go a long way in helping your child maintain eye health.
Talk to your child’s provider or eye specialist if they experience vision problems or eye discomfort.