Children can have any one of a range of eye conditions. All of them affect children in different ways and require individual treatment and/or support.
The most common eye conditions affecting children are:
1. Myopia (short sight)
Children with myopia tend to concentrate on near work and are less aware of the wider environment (or other people). Glasses can help them to focus more clearly at a distance.
2. Hypermetropia (long sight)
Hypermetropia can be corrected by wearing glasses. Children with undetected hypermetropia may be reluctant to perform near tasks, such as reading and writing, and prefer more practical activities.
3. Astigmatism (blurred vision)
Children with this condition see a partially blurred image. It is caused by a refractive error that prevents a sharp focus of the retina. Whilst this condition cannot be corrected, children can be supported in a number of different ways including good contrast (e.g. large dark print on a white board) and bold presentation.
3. Strabismus (squint)
Having a squint means that the eyes do not work together in unison. One is directed inwards or outwards relative to the other. In some cases the brain discounts the image from a squint eye, causing it to become lazy.
4. Amblyopia (lazy eye)
A lazy eye may be treated by patching the good eye, forcing the child to use their lazy eye. During patching teaching staff need to be aware that the child will function as a child with a sight problem and materials and approaches to learning may have to be adapted.
5. Monocular vision (vision in one eye)
Monocular vision reduces the visual field so that a child needs to turn their head to see what is happening on the “blind” side. The child can be helped by positioning their seat in class to make it easier for them to see the board and other visual resources without having to turn their head.
6. Cataracts (opacity of the lens)
Cataracts prevent the passage of light through the eye causing blurred vision. Some children are born with cataracts. Others develop cataracts following disease or a blow to the head. Babies born with cataracts can have them removed when they are a few months old. Some older children also have their cataracts removed by surgery. If the cataracts do not affect the child’s sight too much then an operation may not be needed.
7. Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement)
Nystagmus involves rapid movement of the eye. The eyes generally move from side to side, but can also move up and down or in a circular movement. It generally reduces the child’s ability to see clearly. It is often more marked when the child is tired or agitated. It generally affects the child’s ability to see clearly and can affect their fixation or scanning skills. It can also affect depth perception. Most children with nystagmus need to wear glasses, although these do not cure the condition.
Children with albinism (albinos) usually have nystagmus. These children are highly sensitive to light. Everything appears very bright to them – as though they are permanently looking toward the sun. The brightness makes colours and outlines disappear and the eyes may flicker to focus on an object. Dark glasses help block out the harsh light and it is easier for children with nystagmus to see things close up rather than at a distance.
9. Retinopathy of prematurity
Some children born prematurely may have damage to their retina. In some cases, surgery can be performed to limit the damage. However many children born very prematurely can have severe vision impairments.