What Causes Low Vision In Children? 

Dr. Russel Lazarus, May 3, 2021
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More than half a million children in North American are blind or have low vision.  

Having impaired vision makes it difficult to read, play sports, recognize faces and participate in social activities. It can also make it difficult to navigate outdoors, especially on a busy street or crowded sidewalk.

In children, the first signs of low vision may be clumsiness or inattentiveness, when in reality, the problem is in their vision.

While impaired vision comes with many challenges, a low vision eye doctor can offer a variety of strategies and vision aids that can  maximize a child’s remaining vision.

Contact an eye doctor near you to ensure your child has the highest quality of life.

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Causes of Low Vision and Blindness in Children

1. Albinism 

Albinism is an inherited condition that affects the production of melanin- pigment in the skin, hair, and eyes that gives each person their own unique coloring. People with albinism either have very little melanin or no melanin at all.

Albinism affects how the eyes function. Healthy amounts of melanin are used in the development of the retina. Reduced amounts of melanin in the eyes, or none at all, can cause a variety of vision problems including:

  • Astigmatism — when the lens is abnormally shaped or the cornea (the clear part at the front of the eye) isn’t curved correctly, causing blurred vision
  • Low vision — irreversible vision loss
  • Nystagmus — involuntary, rapid eye movements
  • Photophobia — light sensitivity
  • Poor eyesight — farsightedness or nearsightedness
  • Squint — eyes pointing in different directions

Vision problems associated with albinism last a lifetime, but typically don’t worsen over time.

2. Ocular Trauma

Ocular trauma is a leading cause of blindness, affecting one eye.

According to a study published in the Journal of Ophthalmology, about a quarter of a million children are treated for serious ocular trauma yearly in the USA alone.

Up to 14% of children experiencing ocular trauma result in permanent visual impairment or blindness.

Whenever your child is playing sports, doing certain crafts or engaging in any activity that could pose a risk to their eyes, make sure they wear protective eyewear.

3. Pediatric Cataracts

A cataract is the cloudiness or opacity that occurs in the eye’s lens. While some cataracts are small and won’t interfere with vision, others are large causing severe vision loss.

An estimated 3 out of 10,000 children have cataracts.

Common causes of pediatric cataracts are infections, genetics, and abnormal lens development in utero. If a cataract is small or on the outer edges of the lens, it might not interfere with a child’s vision.

If a cataract interferes with the child’s vision, it should be surgically removed as soon as safely possible.

4. Pediatric Glaucoma 

Pediatric glaucoma, also referred to as infantile or childhood glaucoma, is usually diagnosed before a child’s first birthday.

Glaucoma causes an increase in the eye’s internal pressure, which can lead to permanent optic nerve damage. 

Symptoms of pediatric glaucoma include vision loss, excessive tearing, cloudiness in the cornea, enlarged eyes, and photosensitivity (light-sensitivity). In many cases, childhood glaucoma can be effectively managed and treated.

5. Retinal Diseases 

Retinal diseases, such as Bardet-Biedl syndrome, Leber congenital amaurosis, retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Stargardt macular dystrophy, and Usher syndrome can cause low vision or blindness in children.

A child with any of these retinal diseases should be monitored closely by a low vision optometrist as the condition progresses.

How a Low Vision Optometrist Can Help 

Children with vision loss can live full and independent lives. While lost vision can’t be restored, several low vision aids and devices can help maximize a child’s usable vision. This will enable the child to function as independently as possible and make the most of their sight.

If you have a child with low vision, contact an eye doctor near you today.