What Causes Low Vision In Children? 

Dr. Russel Lazarus, May 3, 2021

More than half a million children in North America 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.

There are many 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
  • Eye turn — 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 every year, in the U.S. 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.

SEE RELATED: What is Low Vision?

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

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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.

Low vision devices for children

Children with vision loss can live full and independent lives. While lost vision can’t be restored, there are low vision devices, such as magnifiers and telescopes, that can help maximize a child’s usable vision. These low vision aids can be easily adapted to facilitate a child’s daily routine to help them function as independently as possible.

The most common low vision devices for children include magnifiers for improving near vision and telescopes for improving distance vision.

LEARN MORE:  Guide to Low Vision

If you have a child with low vision, contact a low vision eye doctor near you to learn more about the variety of low vision devices that can benefit your child.