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How to detect eye problems in toddlers

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The toddler years are crucial for developing healthy vision and skills needed for learning and interacting with others. Maintaining your toddler’s visual health involves taking safety precautions, recognizing the symptoms of eye problems and knowing when to consult an eye doctor for potential treatment.

So what are the most common eye problems in toddlers? How can you recognize the symptoms of eye disorders in your toddler? This guide will help you understand how to keep your child’s visual development on track. 

DOES YOUR CHILD SEEM TO HAVE DIFFICULTY SEEING CLEARLY? Consult a children's eye doctor near you.

5 Common eye conditions in toddlers

Toddlers can face many problems when it comes to their vision. Some of the most common eye problems in toddlers and their causes include:

  • Eye allergies can affect everyone, including toddlers. Eye allergies are caused by things like pet dander, plants/pollen and mold. If you notice your toddler’s eyes watering or appearing dry or irritated, it could be a sign that they are experiencing allergies.

  • Conjunctivitis (pink eye) is extremely common in children. There are three different types of conjunctivitis, which have varying causes: 

    • Bacterial conjunctivitis is caused by bacteria, and can cause serious damage to an eye if it is not treated.

    • Viral conjunctivitis is caused by viruses, such as the common cold.

    • Allergic conjunctivitis is caused by irritants such as pet dander, mold and pollen. It can flare up during the seasons that your toddler experiences allergies.

  • Amblyopia (lazy eye) is a disorder that typically begins in infancy and early childhood. This disorder impacts visual acuity and affects the development of vision. It should be treated promptly, as it can cause long-term vision problems if ignored.

  • Refractive errors, such as astigmatism, hyperopia (farsightedness) and myopia  (nearsightedness) are very common among toddlers and children. These errors can be corrected with eyeglasses prescribed by an eye doctor.

  • Strabismus (crossed eyes) occurs when the eyes do not move in unison or align in the same direction. 

If you believe your child is experiencing any of these problems, it is time to schedule an appointment with their eye doctor.

SEE RELATED: A guide to children’s vision problems

Symptoms of eye problems in toddlers

Vision problems like the ones listed above are common in toddlers, but they won’t likely be able to identify the problem by themselves — especially if they have not begun talking yet. Because of this communication barrier, it is important for you, as a parent, to be able to identify signs and symptoms of eye problems in your toddler.

Some signs that could point to eye problems in toddlers include:

  • Light sensitivity — indoor and outdoor

  • Avoiding activities that involve coloring, puzzles and strong details

  • Covering one or both eyes

  • Eyes are drooping or misaligned

  • Looking at objects such as books too closely

  • Squinting or overcorrecting their eyes when looking at objects

  • Consistent eye rubbing

  • Turning one or both eyes in and out

  • Tilting their head

  • Clumsiness

These symptoms may seem insignificant at first, but they could indicate bigger problems. In any case, it is best to consult your child’s eye doctor to evaluate their symptoms.

Signs your toddler needs glasses

If your toddler’s symptoms include squinting, holding objects extremely close to their face, or tilting their head, they may need glasses.

Eye exams are important for everyone, but especially for children. Experts recommend a child have their first comprehensive eye exam when they are 6 months of age to confirm that their vision is developing properly. After that, children should have their eyes examined at 3 years old, and again at 5 or 6 years old.

A comprehensive eye exam conducted by an optometrist or ophthalmologist is the only way to know for sure if your toddler needs glasses. If your child develops an eye disorder, they may need to visit the eye doctor more frequently than this general recommendation.

SEE RELATED: Eye exams for children: Why they're important 

Preventing and caring for eye injuries

Children are prone to injuries — especially ones that occur in and around their eyes. It’s important to take precautions in order to avoid eye injuries in toddlers, and know how to properly care for them, should any harm take place.

Preventing eye injuries

Young children are vulnerable to their surroundings, and require constant supervision. The following tips can help you prevent your child from injuring their eyes:

  • Store chemicals, sprays and cleaning products in safe, out-of-reach areas. If you store these items below a sink, be sure to put a child lock on the cabinet(s).

  • Purchase and use toys that are appropriate for your child’s age.

  • Cover sharp corners and install safety gates at the top and bottom of stairs.

  • Make sure you are using the appropriate size car seat for your child.

  • Provide extra supervision when doing activities like arts and crafts with your toddler. 

Caring for eye injuries

Even with the most careful supervision, eye injuries can still happen. If your toddler does get hurt, keep these tips in mind:

  • Always seek medical attention for eye injuries. Minor injuries can escalate to bigger issues if they are not treated properly.

  • Do not remove debris. If something is caught in your child’s eye, lift their lid and have them blink repeatedly. If they are unable to flush the debris out with tears, it’s important to seek medical attention.

  • Refrain from applying medication or ointment to eyes if you have not been medically advised to do so.

  • Never apply pressure, rub or touch eye injuries.

  • Puncture wounds and cuts should be gently covered before seeking medical attention.

  • Do not flush eyes with water unless they have been exposed to chemicals. 

The vision system is still developing for toddlers, so serious injuries, along with disorders and refractive errors can have a major impact on your child’s long-term vision health. If you detect any vision problems in your toddler, it is best to have them addressed and treated by your eye doctor as soon as possible.

RELATED READING: Eye Swelling in Toddlers

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