Approximately 5% of all children will develop an eye condition that can result in permanent visual loss if not detected and treated early. Often, this decrease in vision can remain unnoticed by the most observant of parents because children usually will not exhibit any change in behavior. Children can play and interact without showing any clues that one eye is not seeing as well as the other. Children sometimes do not realize that their vision is abnormal because they have not grown to know the difference.
Children are not born with completely developed vision. Nerve connections and visual processing are still incomplete until the child approaches 8 years old. Until this age, the eyes are still learning how to see. Normal visual development requires that both eyes of a child receive a focused image and that the eyes remain straight. Any condition that blurs a child’s vision within this period, such as a need for glasses, eye misalignment or a drooping eyelid, can interfere with the development of normal vision. Because the brain becomes confused with the vision of a blurred or crossing eye, it will ignore this eye and only use the good eye. Like a muscle that weakens with disuse, the eye that is not being used will also weaken resulting in visual loss. Decreased vision from this disruption of visual development is called amblyopia or “lazy eye”. The longer this goes undetected the harder it is to treat.
As a child approaches 8 years old, the learning process in the eye is complete and can not be changed. What vision a child has developed at this age whether good or bad is what he or she will have for the rest of his life. This is why it is so important to identify these children as early as possible, ideally at 3 years old. This allows for treatment to be started early and better visual outcomes.
Treatment depends on the condition which is blurring the child’s eye or causing a misalignment, but usually involves patching therapy. An eye patch is used to cover the normal seeing eye in order to force the weaker eye to be used. With time, and if initiated early enough, this can strengthen the eye and improve vision.
Dr. Dorfman, Dr. Cardone and Dr. Bhatt have years of experience in working with children and treating pediatric eye disorders. If you suspect that your child has a visual problem or you have a family history of childhood eye disease please contact our office or your pediatrician for an evaluation.