Low Vision In Children 

Editor: Dr. Russel Lazarus, Published February 11, 2021

Every year, more than half a million children in the U.S. are diagnosed with low vision or blindness. 

Many children suffer with vision loss, but there are a range of low vision aids that can give them the best chance to engage with the world around them.

There are a number of conditions that can cause vision impairments in children. While some of these conditions can be treated in early childhood, many can result in low vision or even total blindness.

The Find an Eye Doctor directory may provide a list of eye doctors near you that are experienced in managing children with low vision.

What causes low vision in children?

The following are some of the leading causes of low vision among the pediatric population.

Albinism 

Albinism is a genetic condition that affects the production of melanin— the pigment that gives your skin, hair and eyes their unique coloring.

Albinism can occur from a deficiency of melanin production, or a complete absence of melanin altogether.

Albinism not only affects coloring, it can also affect eye functioning. 

A sufficient amount of melanin is necessary for the healthy development of the retina, the light sensitive lining at the back of the eye.

Consequently, a deficiency or absence of melanin in the eyes can lead to a range of vision problems including:

  • Low vision
  • Myopia
  • Hyperopia
  • Astigmatism
  • Photophobia
  • Nystagmus

When related to albinism, these vision problems are generally irreversible, though they typically don’t worsen over time.

Pediatric cataracts

Pediatric cataracts affect 3 in 10,000 children and are a leading cause of blindness and severe visual impairment in children.

A cataract looks like a white spot on the pupil. Cataracts cause cloudy or blurry vision— and can be compared to looking through a dirty window.

Some cataracts are small and don’t interfere with vision, while others are large and can cause severe vision loss.

Pediatric cataracts can be inherited, result from abnormal lens development in utero, or occur following an infection or trauma.

About 40 percent of pediatric cataracts develop as a result of trauma to the eye, such as a hard blow to the head or ocular region.

If the cataract is severe, surgery during infancy will be recommended to ensure normal vision development and prevent vision problems such as amblyopia (lazy eye).

Other treatments, with or without surgery, include eyeglasses, contact lenses, bifocals, and eye-patching.

Pediatric glaucoma 

Pediatric glaucoma is a rare condition that affects 2.3 in 100,000 newborns and children.

Glaucoma occurs when the pressure within the eye rises to a dangerously high level. This condition is caused by a defect in the drainage angle in the eye that inhibits the aqueous fluid from efficiently draining out of the eye.

Constant high ocular pressure causes damage to the optic nerve, which can lead to permanent vision loss.

Symptoms include:

  • Cloudy cornea
  • Redness of the eye
  • Enlarged eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Watery eyes
  • Frequent blinking

Pediatric glaucoma is generally diagnosed before a child’s first birthday. In many cases, pediatric glaucoma can be effectively managed and treated.

Retinal diseases

Certain retinal diseases, like macular dystrophy, retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Usher syndrome, Leber congenital amaurosis, and Bardet-Biedl syndrome can cause low vision or blindness in children.

Children with these progressive retinal diseases need to be closely monitored by an optometrist and low vision specialist to ensure that they receive appropriate low vision support.

Ocular trauma

Ocular trauma is another leading cause of acquired monocular blindness in children.

Each year, about a quarter of a million children are treated for serious ocular trauma in the U.S. alone, and up to 14 percent of those cases lead to visual impairment or blindness. 

To protect your child’s eye health and vision, ensure that your child wears protective eyewear when playing sports or engaging in any activity that could pose a risk of eye injury.

Many children with low vision can live full and independent lives. 

There are a variety of low vision devices on the market that have been designed for children with visual impairments to help them maximize their vision.

A low vision device can help your child to reach their developmental milestones and function as independently as possible— and simply enjoy “just being a kid”. 

Speak with an optometrist or low vision specialist to gain more information about which type of device can help your child meet their visual needs.