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Guide to Children’s Eye Health

Thanks to Roberto from for this helpful blog post about eye health.

Children’s eyes and vision develop gradually and should be screened over the course of their lives. As your child ages, you may notice warning signs of common conditions for their age group. These conditions must be diagnosed and treated to allow your child’s vision to develop normally.

There are also many things you can do to help your child develop better eyesight or preserve their eye health. Taking your child for regular eye exams and getting them to wear their glasses or contact lenses as prescribed are two of the most important.

Children’s Eye Health at Every Age

0 to 2 Months

Newborns are still developing full vision when they are born. They cannot see at a distance and mainly focus their vision on objects that are very close to them. After 6 weeks of age, they should be able to follow an interesting object (such as a caregiver’s face or a colourful toy) with their eyes for brief periods of time.

Many newborns develop chronic discharge from their eyes. This discharge is usually yellowish and sticky. It may build up so much overnight that your new born wakes up unable to open their eyes. If this happens, you can gently clean away the build-up with a clean, soft cloth and some lukewarm water.

Newborns are very vulnerable to eye infections (also known as conjunctivitis or pinkeye). Many hospitals apply a coat of erythromycin ointment to newborns’ eyes to combat this problem. Look out for signs of conjunctivitis in your newborn (such as redness or inflammation in the eyes) and seek treatment if you spot them.

2 to 24 Months

Once they are a few months old, babies should be able to:

  • Maintain eye contact with caregivers during interactions.

  • Track a moving object, like a ball in a sports game.

When babies are older than 4 months, their eyes should not frequently look crossed or misaligned. If they do, your child should be examined for amblyopia (lazy eye) or strabismus (walleye).

When your baby is around 6 months old, they should have their first eye screening. During this exam, their eye doctor will test their eyesight and eye muscle coordination. This is a limited assessment that will not catch all eye problems, but it is helpful for catching severe vision issues at an early age.

2 to 5 Years

When children reach the toddler stage, they begin to develop better vision, particularly in terms of hand-eye coordination. They should be able to do things like draw or colour and use building blocks, both of which develop the visual skills they will need when learning to read and write.

At this age, conditions like strabismus and amblyopia often become apparent. Toddlers with misaligned or drifting eyes should see an optometrist for diagnosis. These conditions may be treated with eye exercises, glasses, or an eye patch depending on your child’s needs.

This is also the age at which some children first begin to show signs of refractive errors, such as myopia or astigmatism. While many refractive errors will only develop a little later in a child’s life, any that are apparent at this age should be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.

6 to 12 Years

When your child reaches school age, they begin to face much higher visual demands in their daily life. They are expected to perform many visual tasks during each school day. At this stage, they should be able to:

  • See things clearly both up close and in the distance, and switch between them without losing focus.

  • Recognize images on a page as letters and words, and understand and remember the ideas they read.

  • Use both eyes together to judge distance, depth, and speed.

  • Maintain good hand-eye coordination during common tasks like writing or catching a ball.

If they cannot do these things, they may have a vision issue that requires treatment. Refractive errors like myopia (near-sightedness), hyperopia (far-sightedness), and astigmatism are commonly identified in this age range and can cause problems with all these tasks. These conditions are easily treated using glasses or contact lenses.

Sometimes a child’s struggles with vision impairment are less obvious. Some common symptoms of eye problems in this age group include:

  • Frequent blinking and eye rubbing.

  • Frequent headaches, eye pain, and other eye-related discomfort.

  • Double vision.

  • Tilting their head to one side.

  • Holding reading materials very close to their face.

Conjunctivitis is also extremely common in school-aged children. This is because it is usually caused by viruses or bacteria which can be easily spread from child to child. If your child develops red, itchy eyes, take them to their doctor for an exam. They may be prescribed antibiotics to help the infection clear up.

13 to 17 Years

By the time children reach their teenage years, most early eye problems will have been detected and treated.

Eye infections are also common among teens.

Occasionally, a teen will be diagnosed with refractive errors that were missed during their earlier years or developed later in life. These conditions can be treated with eyeglasses or contacts.

Many teens suffer from a scratched cornea at some point during these years. This usually happens when the eye comes into contact with foreign objects, such as dirt, sand, wood chips, or even contact lenses. These injuries are painful, but most heal in a few days without treatment. However, it is best to have an eye doctor examine the injury anyway to be certain that there are no foreign particles still stuck in the eye.

Eye infections are also common among teens. This happens due to common mistakes like sharing eye makeup or not cleaning contact lenses properly before wearing them. If your child develops red or itchy eyes, have them see their doctor for a diagnosis and a prescription for antibiotics.