Understanding Low Vision in Children: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions

Over 3% of children in the western world experience low vision or blindness.

Each year, a significant number of children in the UK are diagnosed with low vision or blindness. Many children face vision loss, but various low vision aids are available to help them engage with their surroundings effectively.

Several conditions can cause vision impairments in children. While some of these conditions are treatable in early childhood, others may lead to persistent low vision or complete blindness.

What causes low vision in children?

The following are some of the primary causes of low vision among children:

1. Albinism

Albinism is a genetic condition that impacts melanin production, the pigment responsible for the unique coloring of the skin, hair, and eyes. This condition can result from either a deficiency in melanin production or a complete absence of melanin.

Albinism not only influences pigmentation but also affects eye function. Melanin is crucial for the healthy development of the retina, the light-sensitive layer at the back of the eye.

A lack or absence of melanin in the eyes can lead to various vision issues, including:

  • Low vision
  • Myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Hyperopia (farsightedness)
  • Astigmatism
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Nystagmus (involuntary eye movement)

These vision problems associated with albinism are generally irreversible, although they typically do not worsen over time.

2. Pediatric cataracts

Pediatric cataracts affect approximately 3 in 10,000 children and are a leading cause of blindness and significant visual impairment in this population.

A cataract appears as a white spot on the pupil and causes vision to become cloudy or blurry, similar to looking through a dirty window.

While some cataracts are small and do not significantly affect vision, others are larger and can lead to severe vision loss.

Pediatric cataracts can be inherited, result from abnormal lens development during pregnancy, or occur following an infection or trauma. About 40 percent of pediatric cataracts are due to trauma to the eye, such as a hard blow to the head or ocular region.

If the cataract is severe, surgery during infancy is often recommended to ensure normal vision development and prevent conditions like amblyopia (lazy eye).

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

Consult an eye doctor who specializes in managing children with low vision for appropriate care.

3. Pediatric glaucoma

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

Glaucoma occurs when the pressure inside the eye becomes excessively high due to a defect in the drainage angle, preventing the aqueous fluid from draining properly.

Persistent high ocular pressure damages the optic nerve, potentially leading to permanent vision loss.

Symptoms of pediatric glaucoma include:

  • Cloudy cornea
  • Eye redness
  • Enlarged eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Watery eyes
  • Frequent blinking

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

4. Retinal diseases

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

Children with these progressive retinal diseases require close monitoring by an optometrist and low vision specialist to ensure they receive the appropriate support for their condition.

5. Ocular trauma

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

Each year, approximately a quarter of a million children in the U.S. receive treatment for serious ocular trauma, with up to 14 percent of these cases resulting in visual impairment or blindness.

To safeguard your child’s eye health and vision, ensure they wear protective eyewear when playing sports or participating in activities that pose a risk of eye injury.

Consult with an optometrist or low vision specialist to learn about the best devices to meet your child’s visual needs.

Low vision devices can help your child function as independently as possible and enjoy “just being a kid.”

The right low vision aids can enable children to live full, happy, and independent lives.