Pediatric ophthalmologist Pamela Gallin (author of the new book The Savvy Mom's Guide to Medical Care) says poor vision is a silent disease because it's difficult for parents to figure out if their children have a vision problem.
"Children don't know they can't see and the parents don't know the kids can't see," explained Dr. Gallin.
The formal recommendation is that children get vision screenings when they're 3½ or 4 years old. Yet only 14 percent of American children under age 5 have received a comprehensive eye exam, according to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics.
Here's a checklist of some possible symptoms:
- If the child complains about headaches
- Squinting or rubbing eyes a lot
- Holds reading material closer than normal
- Turns or tilts head to use one eye only
- Irritability after school. (Of course, just because a child is irritable, doesn't mean he can't see well. But a child who hasn't seen clearly for many hours, may be irritable by the end of the school day.)
- Having trouble at school
"If you're not seeing clearly, you can't do that [read for an hour] because you're having difficulty seeing," says Dr. Gallin.
"I had a child last week in my office who is the brother of a patient I was taking care of," recalls Dr. Gallin. "I said, 'We'll do a vision screen.' He had perfect vision in one eye, poor in the other eye. The parents were mortified."
Gallin suggests parents do an informal screening at home.
"Have a child look at a target, a poster, for instance, with some print, cover one eye and see if they can read it, and cover the other eye. If they are complaining they can't see out of one eye, take them seriously," Gallin says.
Some problems can be reversible if treated by a certain age.
"You have until the kids are 7½ to 9 to reverse the losses. If we can pick it up, we can treat them quite well."