Nearly all children are farsighted, although most do not require glasses.
Sharon Holst knew something was wrong with her son Jonathan's vision by the time he was 2 years old. "When he started watching TV, he would walk up within a few inches of the screen and just stand there," Holst said. "It just didn't make sense for him to want to be that close." When Jonathan turned 3, an eye examination revealed he was extremely farsighted (or hyperopic), a condition that could have eventually led to his eyes crossing. He was issued a pair of fairly thick eyeglasses, which corrected the problem. But now, at age 13, his eyes have steadily improved, and his prescription is not nearly as strong as it once was. That's because as Jonathan has grown, his eyeballs have grown along with him, improving his vision. Nearly all children are farsighted, although most do not require glasses. The reason: younger children's eyes are able to compensate for hyperopia (a process called accommodation) to a much greater degree than an older child or an adult. Even though they are technically farsighted, they may experience no vision problems at all. And as they age, and their eyeballs lengthen, they gradually outgrow the condition. "When I look at a child, I expect to find farsightedness, but they generally don't need glasses for it," said Dr. Don Bremer, an ophthalmologist with Nationwide Children's Hospital. "They can see perfectly clearly both far away and up close." In some cases, though, the hyperopia is so severe that the child's eyes can't naturally compensate. In these instances, children may complain of blurry vision or even develop crossed eyes or other problems. Some of these conditions have a genetic link, but not always. Holst, a stay-at-home mom in Ostrander, and her husband Greg (who works for JP Morgan Asset Management) are both nearsighted, but all of their children (including Nathan, 11, Phillip, 8, and Bryan, 6) are farsighted to one degree or another. Glasses will correct the bulk of these issues by ensuring that both eyes are focused to the same degree. Bremer cautions that parents often believe the glasses are "training" the child's eyes, but that's not the case. "People think the glasses or eye patches are strengthening the muscles around the eye, but really we're just forcing the brain to become a good 'developer' of the pictures the eye is sending," Bremer said. As these children age, their prescriptions will gradually improve. Once children get past the age of 12 or so, they become gradually more nearsighted. A farsighted child may even be able to ditch his glasses completely, and then become nearsighted later in life. In Jonathan's case, his prescription has decreased to the point that he can finally wear contacts for sports (he swims year round). "Getting the contacts was a big deal, because then I didn't have to have those lenses in front of my face, and I don't have to worry about breaking my glasses or losing them," Jonathan said. The key is to try and catch these issues early through the screenings provided by pediatricians and school nurses. If you suspect a problem, visit a pediatric ophthalmologist for more thorough testing. "Getting the correction as early as we did was extremely important," Holst said. "Any parent that has any kind of inkling that something is wrong should get right in and have it checked out."