Healthy vision is essential to a child’s success in the classroom. Some children may eventually require glasses.
When might a child need glasses? There are signs that may indicate vision problems, but parents should be proactive in having children properly examined.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends that children receive an eye exam by six months of age, then at least once between the ages of three and five (or before they enter the first grade) and annually thereafter through the age of 18, especially if the child is considered at high risk for vision problems due to family history, prematurity, central nervous system dysfunction or other factors.
Children can develop problems like nearsightedness or farsightedness in their early school years. “If there is a strong family history of nearsightedness, then the child is more likely to need glasses around the same age his or her parents did,” says Dr. Lisa Abrams, a pediatric ophthalmologist at The Krieger Eye Institute.
Visual demands increase as children progress through school. If vision problems aren’t detected and corrected, it can be difficult for them to read small print in textbooks, keep up with studying, and other tasks. Some medical experts believe vision screenings offered at school or a pediatrician’s office may not pick up on certain things a comprehensive dilated eye exam from an eye specialist can detect, further emphasizing the importance of an annual exam. Even if you have 20/20 eyesight, you could still have a vision problem.
Parents should be aware of signs that a child may need glasses. Here are the most common ones:
Squinting at distant objects or writing
Myopia (the medical term for nearsightedness) is a condition in which you can see things that are nearby just fine but struggle to see them from further away, occurring if the eyeball is too long or the cornea is too curved. The condition generally first occurs in school-age children. Kids, for example, “will complain of trouble reading the blackboard and blurry vision,” Abrams says. “Often, the symptoms come on so gradually that they don’t really notice right away,” she adds.
Holding reading materials very close to the face
Ideally, Abrams says, kids should be able to read materials that are about 14 inches from their face, or at arm’s length. This symptom isn’t wildly unusual as kids can focus their eyes so well they are able to see things closer and further away. “But if they can’t read things that are 14 inches away at all, that could be a sign they need glasses,” Abrams says.
A common symptom of eye strain, headaches can be associated with vision problems in kids, sometimes astigmatism (which can cause blurred vision). “Headaches can come from any uncorrected refractive error,” Abrams says.
Sometimes kids will “turn their head sideways or tilt their chin down to see better,” Abrams says.