7 Signs Your Child Needs an Eye Exam

Published 01/20/2023
by Heritage Vision Plans

There are several ways to identify when vision issues may be impacting your child’s quality of life.

Many common vision problems show their first signs during childhood. Your child’s vision doesn’t fully develop until around the age of eight, but children can start showing signs of nearsightedness or farsightedness between the ages of six and 12. Plenty of adults who wear corrective lenses received their first pair in elementary school. But children themselves can’t always identify when they need some help seeing, and they don’t necessarily know when to reach out. That’s why it’s important for parents to be familiar with the common signs of early vision problems.

Untreated vision issues can have surprisingly far-reaching impacts on a child’s wellbeing. An inability to see the blackboard or focus properly on a book can affect academic performance. Binocular vision disorders can contribute to clumsiness or poor coordination, which can make athletics a challenge. When vision becomes a hurdle, almost every other aspect of life becomes that much more of a struggle.

Parents always want to give their children the best possible care. In many cases, that means watching out for signs of a problem before your child even knows it’s there. Children who are experiencing vision problems often exhibit a few common behaviors that can indicate that they’re struggling. Here are seven signs that it might be time to schedule an eye exam for your child.

1.   Squinting

If you notice that your child is often squinting to see, it might indicate that they’re experiencing a refractive error. Refractive errors are some of the most common vision issues: the shape of the eye prevents images from focusing properly on the retina, resulting in nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism. Squinting changes the way light refracts as it enters the eye, and can temporarily improve focus, allowing your child to see things they might otherwise struggle with.

2.   Head tilting or covering one eye

Tilting the head or covering one eye can compensate for refractive errors, like those described above, or for binocular vision disorders—that is, eyes that aren’t working together as smoothly as they should. If the eyes struggle to focus together on an object, removing the visual input from one of them can make it easier to process the image. Head tilting or covering one eye can also be an indicator of amblyopia, or “lazy eye,” which is a very common childhood eye problem.

3.   Reducing distance to objects

Children with myopia or nearsightedness see objects clearly at short distances, but their vision becomes blurry as they get further away. One straightforward way to work around the problem is to move the object closer to the eyes—whether by bringing a phone or a book closer to the face, or by sitting closer to a screen.

4.   Eye rubbing or eye pain

Compensating for a vision problem can be strenuous. It requires frequent use of delicate muscles, and holding the eyes or body in positions it doesn’t typically hold for long periods. The fatigue from this kind of compensation can cause soreness and pain. Additionally, younger children who may not fully understand what they’re experiencing may try to clear blurriness from their eyes by rubbing them. Eye rubbing is a near-universal sign of tiredness, but if you notice that your child is frequently rubbing their eyes at the end of the day or complaining of eye strain, it may be because they’re dealing with an undiagnosed vision issue.

5.   Headaches or nausea

When a child’s eye muscles are overtaxed by compensating for a vision problem, the pain can manifest as a headache. Children experiencing hyperopia, or farsightedness, are particularly susceptible to headaches after long stretches of work, like reading, that require them to focus on objects up close.

Issues with eye alignment can also cause nausea along with headaches. When the eyes don’t work together smoothly, the brain can interpret any attempt to compensate as motion. Movement that the eyes see, but the body doesn’t feel, can trigger motion sickness.

6.   Academic struggles

In daily life, children often have to shift between viewing things that are far away, like a projector screen or their teacher, and near ones, like a book. If a child is having trouble adjusting their visual focus, it can make paying attention in class difficult. Children who can’t see well enough to keep up in class may show signs of frustration or of disengagement, and their grades may suffer.

7.   Poor coordination or clumsiness

Depth perception and motion tracking can be affected by a variety of vision problems. Impairment in these skills can cause children to experience poor balance and coordination. Children with untreated vision problems might struggle at sports, have trouble picking up or catching objects, or may trip or run into things they can’t see well.

A simple eye exam could do more for your child than you realize.

It’s not always obvious when a vision problem is impacting your child. Some children don’t have the words to describe vision issues they may be experiencing, and for others, the decline in vision quality may be slow enough that they haven’t realized it’s happening. But parents who know what to look for can be proactive in caring for their child’s eye health.

If you notice any of the symptoms above in your child, an eye exam is an easy way to rule out many potential problems. Catching a vision problem early prevents your child from struggling with it for any longer than they need to. In some cases, the right eyewear can even help your child’s vision development, and prevent more serious issues in the future.

As a Heritage member, you have the tools you need to care for your child’s vision. Familiarize yourself with your plan’s benefits and don’t hesitate to use your regularly scheduled eye exams, both for yourself and for your child. And if you have any questions about the benefits you’re entitled to, contact Heritage customer service today.