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Vision problems of preschool children

prescool girl wearing glasses while painting

During the preschool years from ages 3 to 6, your child will be fine-tuning the vision and visual skills he already has developed during the infant and toddler years.

Preschool vision tasks vary with a child's age and activities. For example, many young preschoolers are learning to ride tricycles and master the complex eye-hand coordination needed to pedal, steer and watch where they're going at the same time.

Older preschoolers are learning how to integrate vision and body motions (motor skills) by playing sports such as softball (keep your eye on the ball!), and working on the fine motor skills needed to write their names.

Warning Signs

If you have children between the ages of 3 and 6, be aware of these warning signs of possible preschool vision problems:

Preschool girl

Timely eye exams help ensure your preschooler's vision is developing properly.

  • Consistently sitting too close to the TV or holding a book too close
  • Squinting
  • Tilting the head to see better
  • Frequently rubbing eyes, even when not sleepy
  • Shielding eyes or other signs of sensitivity to light
  • Excessive tearing and watery eyes
  • Closing one eye to read, watch TV or see better
  • Avoiding activities that require near vision, such as coloring or reading, or distance vision, such as playing ball or tag
  • Complaining of headaches or tired eyes

Schedule an appointment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist if your preschooler exhibits any of these signs.

Refractive Errors

The most common preschool vision problems are refractive errors:

  • Farsightedness is very common in young children. Excessive farsightedness can lead to strabismus, such as crossed eyes. If strabismus is due solely to uncorrected farsightedness, wearing properly prescribed eyeglasses or contact lenses often can straighten the eyes. Strabismus surgery usually is required if your child has severely crossed eyes or constant strabismus not caused by farsightedness. Untreated strabismus can lead to amblyopia. If not treated, eventually the amblyopic eye "shuts off" and vision may be permanently lost.
  • Nearsightedness (myopia) is another common preschool vision problem. Myopia causes distant objects to be blurry, like writing on a chalkboard in a classroom.
  • Astigmatism causes blurry or distorted vision at all distances.

The First Eye Exam

Even if your child exhibits no symptoms of a refractive error or other preschool vision problems, he should have an eye exam by the age of 6 months and again at age 3 years, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA).

Toddler mom eye contact

Having a complete eye exam before your child enters school allows enough time to catch and correct any vision problems that may interfere with learning.

FIND A DOCTOR: Don't let poor vision affect your child's life. Find an eye doctor near you for an appointment. >

For this reason, preschool children without symptoms should receive another eye exam right before beginning school, the AOA says.

Should your child require correction for any visual problem, be it nearsightedness, farsightedness or strabismus, the AOA recommends an exam every year. A yearly exam allows your eye care practitioner to stay on top of your child's visual needs, as well as ensure that your child's prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses is still correct.

During preschool and the school years, your child's visual system is developing along with the rest of her body, so annual eyeglass prescription changes are common. Read more about children's eye exams and how often they're needed.

Make sure your child receives a comprehensive eye exam from an eye care practitioner, not just vision screenings from school nurses or pediatricians.

Vision screenings may help spot problems, but they often miss them, too, because they are not complete tests. And screenings typically are administered by people who don't have enough eye-specific training to catch all vision and eye health problems.

SEE ALSO: The Problem With Vision Screenings >

Motivating Your Child To Wear Eyeglasses

If your child needs to wear eyeglasses, get him involved in selecting the eyewear — if he helps choose the frame, he will be more motivated to wear the glasses.

Also, explain the benefits of the glasses to him, using specific examples — such as, "Your new glasses will help you see the ball better when you play catch."

Schedule the eye exam and glasses selection at a time that's good for your child. As you know, some kids are more focused early in the day, while others come to life after lunch or an afternoon nap.

Don't visit the eye doctor when your child is tired, cranky or hungry.

First, select a few frame styles for your child with the help of an experienced optician. Then give your child the final choice of the glasses he'll wear.

Make the outing a positive event, discussing how lots of people he knows wear glasses, and how they see much better.

Make sure the frames you choose are fitted properly for your child and are comfortable. No one, especially a child, will wear uncomfortable glasses.

SEE ALSO: Tips on Choosing Children's Eyeglasses That Last >

What Do You Think?

Mandatory Eye Exams For Kids

Ten percent of preschoolers and 25 percent of kids in K-6th grade have vision deficiencies, according to the American Public Health Association.

And 92 percent of American adults surveyed said they would support mandatory eye exams before the first year of school if vision insurance or other assistance was available to those who can't afford them. Typically, such payment programs are available, says The Vision Council, which sponsored the survey.

Illinois, Missouri and Kentucky already have a mandatory eye exam law, and other states are considering one. Proponents say complete eye exams — as opposed to simple vision screenings — can detect many visual disorders that affect a child's ability to learn.

They also say that correcting these learning-related vision problems may result in fewer children being placed in special education programs or requiring social welfare services later in life. — L.S.

Gretchyn Bailey also contributed to this article.

Page updated August 20, 2018