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Signs & Symptoms of Visual Impairment in a Child

By Rachel Morgan ; Updated August 14, 2017

Although not as common as in adults, vision impairment affects many children in some form. Vision problems have lasting affects on kids, particularly as they enter school. One of 20 preschoolers in the United States has some type of vision problem that will affect his learning ability, according to Prevent Blindness America. Kids with vision impairment display multiple signs and symptoms.


Problems with vision can occur before a child is born. In some cases, children are not able to see normally because their brains do not process images properly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the causes contributing to low vision or blindness typically occur in a child before he is 1 month old. One cause, called retinopathy of prematurity, involves scarring of or abnormal vascular growth in the retina. Children born prematurely or at a low birth weight are at greater risk for the condition. The most common causes of vision problems in school-age children are refractive errors, which are due to having abnormally shaped eyes.

Eye Appearance

Some conditions that alter vision affect how a child’s eyes look to others. Teary, red eyes and droopy eyelids could signal a vision problem in a child, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Pupils that appear white, gray or yellow are indicative of a serious eye problem that affects eyesight. Kids who cannot focus on an object or whose eyes appear crossed or focused in different directions should be evaluated by a doctor. Bulging or fluttering eyes also may indicate a condition linked to a child’s vision.

Other Signs

Watch for signs of sensitivity to light or frequent eye rubbing. Eye discomfort, including itching and pain, are symptoms also. Sitting too close to the television is a clue that something is affecting a child’s sight. Vision impairment often becomes more evident when a child is in school; he may squint or move his head in an effort to see better. Avoiding computers, reading or after-school activities could be a child’s way of working around vision problems. Poor vision affects his ability to see important information on the board or to complete assignments. If vision problems are unaddressed, a student’s grades could begin to slip.

Common Vision Problems

Refractive errors include nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. Nearsightedness, the impaired ability to see in the distance, is the most common refractive error in school-age children, according to website KidsHealth. All three problems require correction with glasses or contact lenses. Refractive errors also cause amblyopia, or lazy eye. The brain could eventually stop responding to signals from the affected eye, leading to permanent vision loss. In addition to wearing corrective lenses for refractive errors, kids with amblyopia may temporarily wear a patch to force the brain to respond to the affected eye. Strabismus, or eye misalignment, also may require a patch or, in some cases, surgery.

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