How do I know if my child has a problem with their vision?

During the first twelve years of our lives as much as eighty percent of learning is accomplished through our vision. Yet research has shown that one in five children have an undetected vision problem. As a parent we all want the best for our child and will go to all lengths to ensure they are healthy. We will often bring our child to the GP or dentist if they are complaining or in pain. But how do we know if our child has a problem with their eyesight?

Some eye conditions can be obvious to a parent that there is a problem with their child’s  sight. If a child prefers to sit close to the TV or is prone to bumping into things, this can often be due to an undetected eye problem. A more subtle observation is if your child’s  eye drifts inwards or outwards. This is more noticeable when the child is tired or later in the evening. If in doubt, it is a good idea to take a photograph of your child’s face at various times of the day or when your child is doing different tasks such as playing board games or playing outside. Comparing photographs of the position of the eyes during these tasks can also flag up a potential eyesight problem. Other less obvious signs include if your child has difficulty concentrating, complains of headaches or rubs their eyes a lot.

The most difficult condition for a parent to identify is a ‘lazy eye’. This is where the vision in one eye is reduced compared to the other one.  A child will show no signs or symptoms with this condition and hence it is often not detected until the child is checked at school by the school nurse. This usually can be corrected with glasses. However, sometimes the child has to wear a patch over the ‘good eye’ to make the ‘lazy eye’ work more. Like many health conditions the sooner any eye defect is detected and treated the better the outcome.

When should my child have an eye test?
It is recommended that a child should have their first sight test around the age of three, so that conditions are picked up and treated early. After the first test it is a good idea to return every year or as recommended by your optician. Many parents wait until their child starts school and relies on the school ‘vision screening service’ to determine if their child needs to have an eye examination. It is important to note that this is not a sight test, but a basic vision assessment. I’ve seen many examples whereby a child has passed the ‘screening test’ but has an underlying problem with their sight. A sight test will not only check your child’s vision but also the health of their eyes. Opticians use a range of tests for your children including pictures and even tests that do not need your child to give an actual verbal response.

Does regular screen time affect a child’s eye sight?
Parents often ask me about the affects of screen use on their child’s eyes, concerned that over use can cause damage. The most obvious affect of long term screen use is ‘digital eye strain’. This doesn’t cause permanent damage to the sight but does result in blurred vision and eyes feeling uncomfortable, due to dry, tired eyes. Sometimes it can also cause headaches.

Using screens close to bedtime can contribute to poorer sleep, which may mean your child’s concentration levels are lower during the day. This maybe because blue light is linked to the suppression of melatonin which makes us feel sleepy. Some opticians recommend spectacle lenses with a ‘blue light’ filter embedded in the lens to alleviate the symptoms of over use of screens. However there is only anecdotal evidence that these filters help.

So if you have any concerns about your child’s eyesight bring them to your optician for a full eye examination. Early detection and treatment can significantly enhance your child’s ability to see and allow them to develop as they should.

To book an appointment call us at
McBride and McCreesh Opticians 028 6632 2524.

Dr Brendan McCreesh, principal optician
Ph.D BSc MCOptom