Did you know that the most common cause of permanent vision loss in children under four is also one that can be prevented and treated if found early enough?

Amblyopia, what parents and guardians may recognize as “lazy eye,” is a top cause of permanent vision loss in young children and can develop around age three. It is the diminished vision in one or both eyes caused by abnormal visual development early in life. It is often caused by an uncorrected refractive error, meaning that the shape of the eye doesn’t bend light the right way, so children see a blurred image instead of a clear one.

If caught early enough, amblyopia can be treated. If it isn’t caught, treated, and prevented early enough, it can lead to permanent vision issues and even blindness.

A young child’s vision is still developing and connections between their retina and brain are still forming within the first few months of life. As children get older, they learn to focus on objects, improve their visual coordination and develop their depth perception. All parents and guardians have seen this during play, a child holding their hands up in front of their face, those careful first steps as they work to figure things out.

When children reach the age of three, they can start to develop vision issues that are hard to detect. It’s around this time, that amblyopia can develop. The effects of amblyopia on the eye cannot be seen by the naked eye and often times, when children start to visibly show vision issues, it can be too late to save their vision. For some parents, they may notice their child is falling a lot more as they walk, or they may struggle to grab items that are just out of reach.

Fewer than 20 percent of preschool children are currently screened for vision problems. If left uncorrected, a child will enter school with vision issues that may also impact their ability to focus and learn. In Florida, at least one child in every classroom will be diagnosed with amblyopia. We also know that 80% of learning is visual, therefore timely vision screening and treatment of visual disorders in critical in out of the classroom.

The number one thing parents and guardians need to know to help support healthy eye development in their young children is that early prevention and treatment is key.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends children get vision screenings starting at 12-months, repeated every one to two years. The Florida Society of Ophthalmology recommends all children aged three to five are regularly screened. Early vision screening is critical in terms of preventative care and can be handled by your child’s pediatrician or a pediatric ophthalmologist. Treatment, which can include corrective glasses, patching or surgery must begin right away if a child is at risk of developing amblyopia.

Each August, the Florida Society of Ophthalmology (FSO), and it’s charitable arm, the For Eye Care Foundation, Inc. (FECF), launch an awareness campaign to help share valuable information and resources with parents and guardians about the need for early vision screenings at  www.MDEye.org/Amblyopia.

All parents want their children to be safe and live healthy lives. Vision screenings are one simple and easy way to help achieve that for your children.  Let’s all join together to make sure that all children will enjoy the beautiful colors of a Florida sunset and beyond.