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80% of the information we receive from our surroundings comes from our vision. If caring for our eyes is crucial throughout life, then in infancy it garners even more importance. What we do not learn to see as children cannot be restored later in adult in life. This is why eye check-ups during childhood play an essential role in guaranteeing the eye health of the little ones in our house.

1. At what age should a child’s first eye check-up be carried out?

A long learning process is required for our vision to fully develop. It starts at birth and culminates between the ages of 8 and 9. Anything that causes poor vision in one or both eyes during this stage may result in a lazy eye problem. For this reason, it's fundamental to see a specialist for a comprehensive eye examination at the age of 2 to 3, even if there are no symptoms. No child is too young to have a check-up with a paediatric ophthalmologist.

2. How do we check if our child has a vision problem?

The main indications are blurred vision, constant blinking, rhythmic eye movements, stinging and frequent red eyes, the child moves very close to objects or is unable to read the blackboard, they tilt their head to focus their eyes or they’ve a tendency to deviate or blink one eye. These are all signs and symptoms that should alert parents and teachers and are a reason to go see an ophthalmologist.

3. Is it normal for my baby to deviate their gaze? 

New-born babies may deviate one or both eyes over the first few months of life without there being a real problem. This is known as a functional strabismus and is due to the fact that the eye movement coordination is not yet fully developed. After 4 to 6 months, the baby can merge the two images of an object and obtain binocular vision, that is to say, 3D vision. From this time on, they have learnt to use both eyes in a coordinated way and stop “squinting”. If after 4 to 6 months the parents notice that their baby continues to deviate their gaze, they should see a specialist to rule out the presence of any pathologies.

4. If a member of my family had had a strabismus, is there a high probability that my child will have one, too?

There are many types of strabismus and although the cause is unknown in the majority of cases, there are indeed a series of genetic and environmental factors (low birth weight, prematurity, alcohol and tobacco consumption during the pregnancy, optical errors, etc.) that would be involved in its development. We know that the hereditary factor plays an important role. It is estimated that a child with a family history of strabismus is 4 times more likely to develop one. 

5. My son is not doing well at school. Could it be due to a visual problem?

Having good visual health is the first link in the learning chain. At present, in addition to traditional textbooks, we have the use of screens and other digital devices, meaning the demand on our vision is even greater. During the school years, the appearance of ametropia (myopia, hypermetropia, astigmatism) is frequent, which may in turn lead to other problems such as strabismus and “lazy eye”. Uncorrected visual problems are a common reason for not paying attention in class, delayed reading and writing and a dip in academic performance. Many students are branded as poor students when they are actually concealing an undiagnosed visual problem. 

Dr. Idoia Rodríguez Maiztegui