• Childhood Eye Diseases and Conditions

    Nov. 01, 2013

    The importance of vision screening

    There are many eye conditions and diseases that can affect a child’s vision. Some of the more common focus and alignment disorders and eye diseases are listed below. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to maintaining your child’s eye health. Follow these screening recommendations to preserve your child’s vision.

    Focus and alignment disorders that affect vision

    If any of the following conditions is suspected, the child will need to be examined by an ophthalmologist.

    What it is: Amblyopia is a term used to mean poor vision in an eye that has not developed normal sight (usually during early childhood). The condition is sometimes called “lazy eye.” It occurs when visual acuity is much better in one eye than the other. Amblyopia is common and affects two or three of every 100 people in the U.S.

    What to look for: Amblyopia can be a result of strabismus (misaligned eyes). One eye may look straight ahead while the other turns in, out, up or down. The eye turn may be constant or may be occasional or intermittent. Signals from the misaligned eye are “turned off” by the brain to avoid double vision, so the child uses only the better-seeing eye. Strabismus affects about 4 percent of children in the U.S. Amblyopia can result from eye problems other than strabismus as well.

    What to do: If it seems that the vision in one of the child’s eyes is significantly better (or weaker) than the other, the child needs to be examined by an ophthalmologist.


    Ptosis involves a drooping upper eyelid that covers the eye either somewhat or entirely, and so blocks vision.

    "Cloudy" eyes
    If the surface of the eye, which is normally clear, instead appears cloudy, the child may have a cataract or eye disorder that needs treatment.

    Common Childhood Eye Diseases & Conditions

    When the following diseases are suspected, the child needs to be examined by a primary care physician or children’s health service, who will co-manage the child’s care with an ophthalmologist when necessary.


    Conjunctivitis (pink eye)

    Conjunctivitis can refer to either a viral or bacterial infection (both very contagious), or an allergic reaction (not contagious).

    What to look for:

    • The eye appears red or pink due to inflammation of the conjunctiva, the thin, filmy membrane that covers the inside of eyelids and white part of eye.
    • The eye tears, has discharge or both, and is usually itchy and uncomfortable.
    • When a viral infection is the cause, the child may also have a fever, sore throat and runny nose.

    What to do: If the child has (or may have) contagious pink eye, he or she needs to stay home from school or return home to avoid infecting others. Contagious pink eye usually resolves in three to seven days. When the tearing and discharge from the eyes has stopped the child may return to school.

    Read more about how to prevent the spread of conjunctivitis in the classroom.

    Chalazion looks like a small lump on the eyelid, and may occur when a meibomian gland (an oil-secreting gland in the eyelid) becomes clogged. It is not caused by infection.

    A stye looks like a red, sore lump near the edge of the eyelid; it is caused by an infected eyelash follicle.

    Preseptal or Orbital Cellulitis
    Cellulitis is an infection related to trauma, an upper respiratory infection or an eyelid infection.

    What to look for: The tissues around the eye appear red and painfully swollen. The condition usually occurs in one eye, which may be swollen shut. The child may have a fever. More serious preseptal or orbital cellulitis infections can cause decreased vision, an inability to move the eye, and the appearance of the eye being pushed forward.

    What to do: Both forms of cellulitis are serious conditions that require urgent medical attention. Take the child to a primary care doctor or other qualified health professional who will co-manage the child's treatment with an ophthalmologist.

    Blocked Tear Duct
    A blocked tear duct is when the eye’s drainage system for tears is either partially or completely obstructed. Tears cannot drain normally, causing a watery, irritated or chronically infected eye.

    What to look for: Symptoms of a blocked tear duct may include watery eyes or tears running out of the eyes.

    What to do: A baby can be born with a blocked tear duct, but the condition usually resolves on its own within the first year of life. In some cases, your ophthalmologist may recommend that you use a special massage technique to help open up the membrane covering the lower opening into your baby's nose. He or she will demonstrate how to correctly do this massage.