Eye problems in young children

There are an estimated 1.4 million children around the world who are blind – and one in five of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. Many of these children would be able to see, only if they had received the right care at the right time. 

ORBIS Checklist- Detecting eye problems in young children

In about 80% of cases blindness is preventable if treatment is received as soon as possible. In children this is usually before the age of six, when the brain and the eye are still developing.

Unfortunately many children’s eye problems are only picked up once they start school, and in some cases this may be too late. ORBIS has compiled this checklist so that parents and caregivers can detect possible eye problems and act quickly.

The child's eye

Look regularly and carefully at the eye for any of these warning signs:

  1. A white pupil or white spot on the pupil 
  2. Not being able to fix eyes and follow a moving object such as a finger or toy 
  3. One or both eyes being bigger or smaller than usual 
  4. Crossed eyes or one eye looking in another direction 
  5. Redness of the eye and  around the eye and / or crustiness 
  6. Swelling or inflammation 
  7. Excessive watering 
  8. Protruding or sticking out

The child's behaviour

Does the child?

  1. Smile and focus on your face by the time they are 3 months old? 
  2. Cover or close one eye when trying to focus on something 
  3. Hold objects close or get very close to the TV, computer or blackboard 
  4. Have trouble reading or doing close-up work 
  5. Tilt or angle the head when trying to focus 
  6. Complain things are blurred or difficult to see 
  7. Squint or frown when concentrating and / or looking at things in the distance 
  8. See double 
  9. Have jerky eye movements 
  10. Rub their eyes a lots or complain of sore, itchy or scratchy eyes

If you notice any of the above or have any reason at all to be concerned about the child’s sight seek professional advice.

What can parents/caregivers do to protect eye health?

  • Check that the ‘Eye’ section of the child’s Road to Health Clinic Card is completed
  • Speak to a health care professional (i.e. community healthcare worker,  optometrist or family doctor) immediately if you suspect a problem
  • If your child requires spectacles ensure that they wear them; a child is never too young to wear glasses
  • Keep your child’s face and hands clean to minimise risk of eye infections
  • Make sure that your newborn’s eyes are delicately wiped (with separate, clean cotton wool and cooled boiled water) immediately after birth - to prevent conjunctivitis and other more serious infections
  • Know that even if a child is born blind it may be possible to restore sight – in about 40% of cases vision problems are treated successfully.

 Early intervention is vital so do not delay in taking the child to a health care professional.

 More information on ORBIS:

 This information was compiled by ORBIS with thanks to Prevention Blindness America. Since ORBIS started in 1982 they have worked in 90 countries, medically treated over 18.8 million people (5.6 million of which are children) and trained 90, 000 doctors and 215,000 nurses. 

For a more detailed eye care checklist or to find out more visit www.orbis.org.zaIn Southern Africa ORBIS is focused on improving paediatric eye care and they have recently helped open two specialist centres for children – one in Durban, South Africa and the other in Kitwe, Zambia. To find out more about ORBIS and how you can join the fight for sight visit www.orbis.org.za or www.facebook.com/ORBIS-SA or call ORBIS on 021 447 7135.

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