Does you child often complain of headaches? Headaches in children can stem from a wide range of causes; so if your child does get frequent headaches, you should consult your pediatrician to rule out serious conditions.
But one often-overlooked cause of headaches in children is treatable. Children with undiagnosed functional vision problems commonly get headaches, and functional vision problems can be corrected with vision therapy.
You might be thinking your child is in the clear if he or she has 20/20 eyesight or wears corrective lenses. Most parents are aware that nearsightedness (myopia) and farsightedness (hyperopia) can cause headaches in children, but typical eye exams and school vision screenings do not test for many common vision problems that often cause headaches.
In children, many tension headaches are caused by eyestrain or eye fatigue that is exacerbated by underlying vision problems.
Convergence insufficiency is a medical condition in which the brain has trouble accurately, efficiently, and comfortably coordinating the eye muscles to see properly for a prolonged period of time at reading distance. People with Convergence Insufficiency find it difficult to keep their eyes working together smoothly as a team, and their eyes tend to drift outwardly when attempting to focus on text or other items at a near distance. Children with a healthy visual system are able to aim their eyes naturally and easily. If a child has convergence insufficiency, he will struggle to aim his eyes, and the extra effort causes fatigue and headaches.
Accommodative (focusing) dysfunction is when a child has trouble using the eye muscles efficiently to bring an object into focus clearly and to maintain focus for a sustained period of time. The muscles that focus the lenses in our eyes have to adjust quickly and often to see various points of visual interest clearly, or sustain that clear focus without vision becoming fuzzy or blurred. If a child is getting frequent headaches, it may be due to the constant strain of trying to focus his eyes–something that comes naturally and automatically to his classmates.
Amblyopia (lazy eye) is a condition that causes reduced vision in one eye. During development, something prevented normal and healthy connections between the child’s eyes and brain; and the deficiency causes the brain to suppress images from the affected eye and favor the other eye. As you can imagine, the unaffected eye becomes overused and strained, which can lead to frequent tension headaches.
Poor visual processing skills can also cause headaches in children. Visual processing is comprised of a complex system of neurological activity. Many children lack good visual processing skills due to a delay in development or a vision disorder. These children have trouble computing visual input, leading to problems with visual-motor integration and speed, visualization, visual memory, and more. The extra effort they need to put forth to learn and complete tasks can cause stress and tension headaches.
For a child with a vision problem, use of technology can contribute to eyestrain and headaches. Many children spend little time resting their eyes; because in addition to school work, they watch television, play video games, and use computers, tablets, and smartphones. This can cause eye fatigue for any child, but those with undiagnosed and untreated vision disorders are more susceptible to experiencing recurring headaches from too much screen time.
Click here to read 9 signs that your child could have a learning-related vision problem that may cause headaches.
Click here to watch a webinar to learn more about vision problems in children.
The good news is, vision therapy addresses and treats many common vision problems that cause headaches in children. But the first step is always to determine the cause of the headaches.
If you suspect your child’s frequent headaches might be caused by a vision problem, schedule a comprehensive vision exam by a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care.