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Vision screening for children

Vision problems in children include strabismus (crossed eyes), anisometropia (a condition in which the 2 eyes have different levels of visual acuity), hyperopia (farsightedness), myopia (nearsightedness), and cataracts. Strabismus, anisometropia, and visual deprivation can lead to a condition called amblyopia, a permanent loss of vision due to abnormal visual development in early life.

Who is at risk

Family history is a risk factor for some vision disorders such as refractive error, as is premature birth.

The presence of some vision disorders increases the likelihood of developing other vision disorders, such as strabismus and amblyopia.

A number of neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, hearing impairment and speech delay) also are associated with higher rates of vision problems.

The most significant preventable risk factor for visual disorders in children is maternal smoking.


  • Sitting close to the TV or holding a book too close
  • Squinting
  • Tilting their head
  • Frequently rubbing their eyes
  • Short attention span for the child's age
  • Turning of an eye in or out
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Difficulty with eye-hand-body coordination when playing ball or bike riding
  • Avoiding coloring activities, puzzles and other detailed activities

What you can do

  • Practice throwing and catching a ball or bean bag.
  • Read aloud to your child and let him or her see what is being read.
  • Provide a chalkboard or finger paints.
  • Encourage play activities requiring hand-eye coordination such as block building and assembling puzzles.
  • Play simple memory games.
  • Provide opportunities to color, cut and paste.
  • Make time for outdoor play including ball games, bike/tricycle riding, swinging and rolling activities.
  • Encourage interaction with other children.

Preventive service at no cost

Children aged 3 to 5 years

The USPSTF recommends vision screening at least once in all children aged 3 to 5 years to detect amblyopia or its risk factors.

Why screening is important

Treatment success decreases with age, with a risk of irreversible vision loss. Untreated vision problems can result in accidents and injuries, experiencing bullying behaviors, poor visual motor skills, depression and anxiety, poor self-esteem, and problems at school and work.

What the screening is

Tests done in the primary care setting include external inspection of the eyes, red reflex testing, corneal light reflex testing, and testing of visual acuity using pictures or letters. Vision screenings are a limited process and can't be used to diagnose an eye or vision problem, but rather may indicate a potential need for further evaluation.


Vision problems can be treated in a variety of ways depending on the underlying problem, such as with glasses, eye patches, or surgery if necessary.

Treatment depends on the specific condition and includes correction of any underlying refractive error.

Additional tips