Big Impact on Small Eyeballs: Pediatric Eye Care

How often do you see your eye care provider for routine or annual eye exams? A comprehensive eye exam is necessary to evaluate not only your visual acuities, but also the health of the eye as a whole. I mean, you don’t go to your primary care physician’s office and pay your fee for just half of a wellness check, do you? Let’s take this even to a smaller scale, literally. A child’s development is of utmost importance for them to grow and thrive into healthy adults. A portion of that goes to eye care evaluations.

An infant, toddler, or pre-adolescent child won’t typically voice their concerns of blurred vision or any type of visual disorders. It is their pediatrician’s office or school nurse who will screen vision and/or briefly do an undetailed examination of the health of the eye. It is based on those presumptions that a child may or may not need glasses. While we trust that those results are valid, it is our recommendation that an actual eye exam is done by an eye care professional. Who are these professionals?

An optometrist is a Doctor of Optometry who undergoes four rigorous years of training in neuroanatomy, vision science, ophthalmic optics, ocular anatomy, physiology and ocular pathology, ocular pharmacology, and many more courses to fully prepare them to address adult and pediatric eye diseases and vision problems. These medical doctors are physicians who can correct and treat children’s eye conditions  often without surgery. If surgery is needed, an Optometrist would refer the patient to a pediatric ophthalmologist. 

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. What are common pediatric eye problems? One of the most common eye problems we see with children’s eyes is something commonly called “lazy eye.” A lazy eye, or amblyopia, is when one eye sees much better than the other. Visual development at these early stages in a child’s life is crucial. If not evaluated and treated right away, the brain will decide that the lazy eye is no longer needed and the child could potentially go blind in that eye indefinitely. Strabismus is another eye condition that is common in children. This is a misalignment of the eyes in which one eye crosses inward or moves outward. Vision therapy can usually help your child’s brain to train the eyes to align without the need for surgery, although surgery is sometimes recommended. 

Binocular vision (vision using both eyes with overlapping visual fields) is a major section evaluated in a child’s eye exam. Binocular vision is what helps us have keen depth perception. Have you ever tried watching a 3-D movie without the 3-D glasses? It’s not as entertaining. For those children and teenagers who play sports, depth perception is relied upon for performance and hand-eye coordination. Stereoacuity and sensory perception are also tests performed by an eye care provider.

There is also an array of systemic diseases and health conditions that can affect a child’s eyes. Children with Neurofibromatosis can develop optic nerve tumors and nodules on their colored part of the eye. Children with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis can develop ocular inflammation that is both painful and vision-threatening. Children taking certain medications can develop ocular toxicities that can only be evaluated through a dilated fundus examination, also only done at an eye care provider’s office. Traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors or cancer can hinder vision. In fact, it is through a dilated eye exam that we can sometimes detect brain malignancies such as intracranial hypertension, brain lesions and brain inflammatory diseases.

Children with special needs or genetic syndromes are evaluated for any pathological eye diseases that can sometimes be accompanied with their current conditions. Marfan syndrome, Down syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and others, are conditions that can affect a child’s visual development. We use special devices, lights and microscopes that will allow us to fully view and examine a child’s eyes.

With all of these factors at play, I believe it is just as important to have an eye care professional evaluate the health of your child’s eyes as it is to have routine check ups by a pediatrician, and I recommend a child is seen by an Optometrist once within their first year, once more before kindergarten, and annually each year following. 

We look forward to hopefully seeing you and the whole family at Premier Eye and Vision for your next exam!

-Written by Dr. Clyde & Jeff, Lead Technician