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Signs and symptoms that your child may have myopia

Depiction of a child suffering from myopia

A surprising number of kids are getting glasses for nearsightedness. In fact, studies have found that myopia now occurs in nearly half of all school-aged children. To monitor your child for myopia, schedule an eye exam and watch for signs such as holding things close or squinting at a distance.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is when vision is blurry at a distance and clear at near. Myopia often starts in the school years, commonly developing around the age of 8 years through about 20 years old.

Won’t my child just tell me they can’t see clearly?

Kids usually don’t tell their parents that they need to have their eyes examined. More likely, subtle signs and off-hand complaints about blur are the only notice you will get that your child should be evaluated for myopia

Just as you would watch for signs of a runny nose or an ear infection, it’s important to keep an eye on your child’s vision.  

SEE RELATED: Brushfield Spots

Signs to watch for if your child has myopia

The most effective way to tell if your child has myopia is to schedule an eye appointment with an eye doctor

When they can’t see clearly, children may try to clear up their vision by blinking and squinting. They may also adapt by moving closer to what they are viewing. The following signs of uncorrected myopia in children will help you determine whether your child may have myopia.

Squinting when looking at distance 

Squinting helps to temporarily clear up vision by creating a “pin-hole effect.” A pinhole obstructs some of the scattered light rays reaching the retina. This improves the clarity of the object being viewed. When a child squints, the eyelids close and narrow the entrance to the pupil. This mimics the effect of a pin hole to a small degree. In this way, a child can briefly clear up blurry distance vision.

Rubbing eyes

Rubbing the eyes is a common response to eye strain and fatigue. It’s unclear why individuals form this habit. It is possible that the physical pressure of eye rubbing may cause some tears to be released into the eye. This may temporarily relieve itchy eyes, dryness or provide a brief moment of clearer vision.

Regardless, take notice that your child rubs their eyes frequently. Let them know that they should try to stop. Rubbing your eyes can transfer bacteria and viruses to your eyes. It can also increase the risk of long-term damage to the eyes. 

Excessive blinking to clear up distance vision

Adults blink about 13,500 times a day. Children blink less often, but blinking plays an important role in maintaining clear vision for both kids and adults. 

Children may blink excessively in an effort to clear up their vision. When you blink, tears are spread onto the cornea to provide hydration and nutrients, and to wash away debris. These tears also create a smooth surface for light rays as they enter the eye. 

Blinking frequently to clear up vision is a natural response to blur. It helps to maintain a stable tear film, which is important for good visual acuity

Sitting very close to the TV

Myopia causes blur at a distance. If children have even mild myopia they may experience blurry vision while watching TV or looking across the room. 

In order to compensate for this, children will begin to sit closer and closer to a television. 

If you find that your child is sitting on the floor two feet away from the TV screen, ask them if they moved there because it was blurry when sitting farther away.

Holding books and tablets close to the face

If a child is extremely nearsighted, they will find that holding a book or tablet at a normal viewing distance is too far away and causes blur. Depending on the degree of myopia, a child will hold reading material very close to the face so that they can see it clearly. 

These days, tablet use is very common both at school and at home. Next time your child is using their tablet to complete their homework or play a game, observe whether they need to hold it very close to see it clearly. 

Unaware of things at a distance

If you notice that your child seems unaware of objects or people at a distance, it may be that they cannot see clearly far away. As a result, they may have begun to ignore things outside of clear viewing range. 

When at a playground or sporting event, talk to your child about things happening in the distance and see how they respond. Are they able to see the dog chasing the ball across the park? Can they read the sign across the street? 

READ MORE: Myopia control: Is there a cure for nearsightedness?

Covering up one of their eyes

When there is a large difference in the prescription between two eyes it is called anisometropia. Some children with myopia may have significantly more nearsightedness in one eye than the other eye. 

Scientists have found that in children with myopia and anisometropia, the dominant eye is usually more myopic.

If the difference between the eyes is too great, it can cause the brain to perceive each eye’s image as a different size. This can cause eye strain, dizziness and disorientation. To prevent these symptoms, a child may try to block the image from one eye by covering it up.

Complaints of eyes feeling tired or strained

Eye discomfort can be a symptom of uncorrected myopia. A child may express they have eye strain by saying that their “eyes hurt” or that they have pain and pressure around the eyes. 

Children with uncorrected myopia may complain of:

Some children are more vocal than others about expressing discomfort. Listen to your child’s complaints and observe when they are occurring. Pay attention to whether their complaints increase after an activity that requires clear vision at distance.


If your child complains of frequent headaches, first rule out other causes. If none can be discerned, uncorrected myopia may be the culprit. 

Your child may experience a feeling of pressure in the head, often felt as a constant or throbbing pain. Headaches caused by eye strain can sometimes feel like an ache in the front of the head. 

Additional signs that a headache may be the result of vision issues are:

  • It gets worse as the day progresses

  • It occurs daily

  • It’s chronic

  • It is moderate in severity

Difficulty in the classroom

Watching for signs that show your child may have myopia is important. Equally important is keeping tabs on changes in your child’s school performance and activities.

If your child is having difficulty at school, it may be due to an inability to see the front of the classroom clearly. 

While school vision screenings are very useful, they do not catch every child’s vision issues. Your child’s struggle to grasp new concepts and skills may be linked with an inability to see what the teacher is explaining at the front of the classroom. 

A 2014 study of 20,000 schoolchildren found that test scores improved dramatically among children who had failed vision screenings and were then provided glasses. In fact, the study found that the educational gain that the children made after their refractive error was corrected was equal to half a semester of instruction.

READ MORE: 12 hidden signs your child may need glasses

Difficulty with sports

Mastering hand–eye coordination is tough enough for a child playing a sport. Difficulty seeing the ball or teammates clearly can be too much for a child, even one with athletic potential. Take note if your child has always excelled at sports but seems to be struggling lately or has begun to avoid sports altogether.

It can be difficult for kids, especially younger kids, to express or even comprehend the root cause of their avoidance or difficulty with an activity. They may feel embarrassed or overwhelmed. Offer to play a sport with them if they are reluctant to join a team. Observe how well they see the ball and their surroundings. 

If your child does indeed have myopia, let the eye doctor know that they participate in athletics. There are many styles of sports glasses with durable, safe materials that will allow them to once again enjoy sports.

Difficulty reading signs and seeing clearly when driving

Teens who drive and have uncorrected myopia may complain that they are having difficulty reading signs and seeing clearly. This may be especially true at night. Being alert to your teen driver’s vision issues is important for their, and others’, safety.  

Your child may have passed the vision test when they were getting a driver’s license. However, the screening for a driver’s license is very basic, and your child may have developed vision issues since then. Schedule an appointment with an eye doctor if you find that your teen is having difficulty seeing while driving.

A condition called “night myopia” may also reduce your teen’s vision during night driving, even if your teen is able to see clearly while driving during the day. Night myopia occurs when the eyes exhibit symptoms of nearsightedness and decreased visual acuity in low-light conditions. 

Even people with perfect vision sometimes experience it. Glasses for night driving may be beneficial to your teen if they are finding that they are having difficulty seeing in dimly lit conditions.

The importance of yearly eye exams for kids

Kids need clear distance vision to excel in the classroom and succeed in all of their childhood adventures. If a child has uncorrected myopia, they may even begin to avoid things they enjoy, such as time with friends or extracurricular activities. 

Monitor your child for the signs and symptoms of uncorrected myopia. The most effective way to tell if your child has myopia is to schedule an eye appointment with an eye doctor. A comprehensive eye exam will evaluate your child’s vision and eye health. 

If the eye doctor finds that your child has myopia, recent research shows there are steps you may be able to take to slow down myopia progression. Read about strategies, such as specialized glasses and contact lenses or atropine drops for myopia control. Your eye doctor can determine which options may be appropriate for your child. 

READ MORE: Is your child at risk of myopia / nearsightedness?

Vision problems. Boston Children’s Hospital. Accessed December 2021.

Progression of myopia in children and teenagers: a nationwide longitudinal study. British Journal of Ophthalmology. March 2021.

Myopia (nearsightedness). Cleveland Clinic Foundation. July 2020.

The correlation between keratoconus and eye rubbing: a review. International Journal of Ophthalmology. November 2019.

Eye blinks are perceived as communicative signals in human face-to-face interaction. Plos One. December 2018.

Biochemistry, tear film article. StatPearls. June 2021.

Biological functions of tear film. Experimental Eye Research. August 2020. 

Association of ocular dominance and anisometropic myopia. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. August 2004.

Aniseikonia. American Academy of Ophthalmology EyeWiki. October 2021.

Headache associated with refractive errors: Characteristics and risk factors. Revue Neurologique. October 2021.

Effect of providing free glasses on children’s educational outcomes in China: cluster randomized controlled trial. British Medical Journal. September 2014.

Shedding light on night myopia. Journal of Vision. May 2012.

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