Optometrists and ophthalmologists are trained to examine the eyes of both children and adults. They can prescribe glasses or contacts when necessary and even treat eye disorders. However, pediatric ophthalmologists are eye doctors for kids, which means they have more in-depth knowledge and training in diagnosing and treating pediatric eye conditions.
Why does this matter? For one thing, young children usually can’t articulate their symptoms. Pediatric eye specialists have experience communicating with children and helping them feel comfortable during a consultation. A pediatric ophthalmologist also uses equipment and vision tests that are specially designed for a young patient’s developmental stage. When eye exams and vision tests are tailored to meet children’s needs, accurate results and effective treatment are more likely to occur.
Additionally, if your child’s pediatrician has detected a complex or potentially serious eye condition, your child may be referred to a clinic that offers pediatric ophthalmology services to confirm the diagnosis and provide specialized treatment. Here are some conditions that pediatric ophthalmologists typically treat:
Also known as crossed eyes, strabismus is one of the most common pediatric eye conditions, affecting between 2% and 4% of children. It’s a condition in which one eye is turned in a different direction from the other eye. The misalignment means the eyes don’t focus together on the same object, so each eye sends a different picture to the brain. This can cause blurry or double vision. Over time, the brain may begin to ignore the picture presented by one of the eyes, which can cause that eye to weaken so that it never develops strong vision and the child develops a second eye condition known as amblyopia.
This is a form of strabismus in which one or both eyes are turned outward. The condition may be constant or intermittent. In the case of children with intermittent exotropia, the eyes may appear to be straight most of the time, but they occasionally drift outward. If the condition isn’t treated, intermittent exotropia can become constant.
Also known as “lazy eye,” amblyopia typically begins in childhood, and it’s the most common cause of vision loss in kids. It occurs when the brain fails to recognize the sight from one eye, which usually has weaker vision, and relies almost solely on the other, stronger eye. Over time, the vision in the weaker eye becomes worse. Some symptoms of this condition include squinting, tilting the head, or shutting one eye to see better.
Sometimes called “droopy eye,” this condition occurs when the muscle that lifts the upper eyelid doesn’t do its job, thus allowing the eyelid to droop over the eye below. The eyelid may cover enough of the eye to interfere with vision, which can lead to the development of other eye conditions, including amblyopia, strabismus, and astigmatism.
Cataracts are caused by the breakdown in the proteins and fibers that make up the eye’s lens. This usually—but not always—results from aging. People with cataracts are likely to have cloudy or hazy vision, and they may see distorted images because of the way the cataracts scatter light that passes through the lens to the retina. Although commonly associated with seniors, children can have cataracts, too. And pediatric cataracts are more serious because they can interfere with the development of critical connections between the brain and the eyes. Once these connections are made—usually by age 8 or 10—they can’t be changed, which means failure to provide timely treatment for pediatric cataracts can lead to permanent vision loss.
Glaucoma is another eye condition that’s often associated with older adults. But, rarely, it can occur in babies and young children. Also known as congenital glaucoma, infantile glaucoma, or juvenile glaucoma, this condition is caused by the incorrect development of the eye’s drainage system before birth. This can cause excess tear production and cloudiness of the cornea, which gives the eye an enlarged, glassy appearance. Glaucoma causes loss of peripheral vision that gets worse over time, and untreated glaucoma can lead to irreversible blindness.
Florida Medical Clinic offers pediatric ophthalmology services at our locations in Land O’ Lakes and North Tampa. Click here to request an appointment.