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Common Childhood Physical Symptoms That Could Be Signs of Undetected Vision Problems

7 Common Physical Symptoms in Children That Could Caused by a Vision Problem

The Visual Learning Center offers
developmental optometry & vision therapy
near Silver Spring, MD in Olney.

As a parent or caregiver, when a child complains that they don’t feel well or that something hurts, you want to ensure you do what you can to get to the bottom of whatever is ailing them and help them feel better.

You may be concerned that their physical symptoms are caused by an illness, injury, food sensitivity, or environmental factors, but what you may not know is some common childhood physical complaints could be caused by an undetected vision problem that is treatable with vision therapy.

Montgomery County Parents: Don’t miss Dr. Nicholson’s upcoming webinar. Click here to register and learn about how undetected vision problems could be interfering with your child’s performance in school.


Headaches in children can stem from a wide range of causes, including cold, flu, sinus or ear infections, allergies, food sensitivities, emotional factors, or head trauma. Headaches can also be caused by vision problems, even if your child has 20/20 eyesight.

They could be experiencing tension headaches caused by eyestrain or eye fatigue, exacerbated by underlying functional vision problems, such as convergence insufficiency, accommodative dysfunction, or amblyopia. If your pediatrician has ruled out other possible causes for headaches, a comprehensive vision exam may detect a vision problem.

Exhaustion or Fatigue

If your child complains of exhaustion, fatigue, or unexplained tiredness, first see your pediatrician to rule out problems such as asthma, allergies, infections, or more serious illnesses.   

If other possible causes are ruled out and if you notice your child often complains of being tired soon after reading or writing, their fatigue could be caused by a vision problem.  Children with vision problems are constantly overcompensating for their deficiencies and straining or working harder, which can be draining.

Eye Irritation

Your child may complain that their eyes hurt or ache, or that they’re dry, itchy, watery, or red. You may also notice them blinking excessively or rubbing their eyes. While you might assume this eye irritation is caused by allergies, it could be caused by strain from eye tracking, eye teaming, or some other functional vision problem.

Double Vision or Blurred Vision

Complaints of double vision or blurred vision can be alarming because this symptom could be caused by brain trauma or nerve damage from a serious illness or injury. But double vision or blurred vision can also be caused by a misalignment, eye focusing, or eye muscle movement problem that can be treated successfully with vision therapy.

Dizziness or Nausea

We often think of dizziness as something that stems from an inner-ear problem. Many people are aware that the inner-ear and brain work together to control balance. So you probably wouldn’t be surprised to find that your child has fluid or an infection in their ear or a problem in the vestibular system when complaining of dizziness.

Our brain and eyes also work together to maintain a stable and even visual plane. We need to be able to fix and maintain our gaze so what we’re looking at remains steady and still. If your child’s visual system is not functioning properly, text or images may be misaligned or blurry, or seem to move, jump, go in and out of focus, appear wavy, or slide down the page. Experiencing any of these effects can cause dizziness or nausea while reading.

Motion Sickness

If a child has a functional vision problem, it can make them especially motion sensitive. When scenery moves by fast, our brains receive information that conflicts with our senses. The vestibular system in our brains integrates information received from the visual system with information received from what we hear and touch and from our muscle movement and awareness, creating balance and calm from the stimuli we take in.

If your child already struggles with visual processing, focusing (accommodative dysfunction), eye tracking (ocular motor dysfunction), or eye teaming (binocular dysfunction), their symptoms may become exacerbated by added or conflicting stimulation.

Clumsiness or Slowness

A child with an untreated vision problem may by clumsy, accident-prone, or awkward. You may wonder if the child has a developmental or physical problem with movement or balance, or you might suspect they’re adapting to a growth spurt. But they could be coping with poor visual-motor integration, a visual processing disorder, inability to focus or efficiently control their eye movement, or skewed depth perception.

The only way to determine whether or not any of these common childhood physical symptoms could be associated with a vision problem is with a comprehensive vision exam by a developmental optometrist who specializes in functional vision care and vision therapy.

Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center treats functional vision problems with individualized vision therapy programs in our Olney, MD office, convenient to Silver Spring. Contact us today to schedule a comprehensive exam and consultation.

Register for an upcoming webinar here.

A Vision Disorder Could Be to Blame for Your Child’s Frequent Headaches Even With 20/20 Eyesight

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.


Straining to read when the text looks like this can lead to frequent headaches in children with vision problems.

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.

If your family is in Olney or Silver Spring, Maryland, click here to make an appointment with Dr. Philip Nicholson at the Visual Learning Center.





Can vision problems affect my child’s life outside of school?

While many vision problems are first suspected in a school setting or learning environment when a child has difficulty with reading, writing, math, or engages in disruptive classroom behavior, vision problems can also significantly affect the child’s life outside of school.

If a child has a visual processing issue, seemingly simple tasks may be more difficult for him than other children. He may struggle to learn how to tie his shoes, match his socks, or follow demonstrated instructions. You might notice that he has trouble remembering his own address, phone number, or retelling stories about something he watched on television or experienced.

Vision problems also affect social interaction. Your child might appear awkward, clumsy, or other children may complain that he is invading their personal space, because he has trouble with spatial and body awareness and depth perception. The other children might treat him differently because he has developed coping habits, such as constantly rubbing his eyes, squinting, or tilting his head, or because he often complains of headaches or nausea. He may become distracted while talking or ignore the rhythm of a conversation and other social cues. Children or other parents might unfairly judge this behavior as unmannerly or inconsiderate.

In addition to learning difficulties, vision problems can affect physical activity as well. A child with an untreated vision problem may perform poorly in sports due to clumsiness, poor hand-eye coordination, inability to focus, or skewed depth perception. They may be picked last for teams; or the the other children may leave them out of games or tease them.

At home, a child’s untreated vision problems may contribute to stress in the household. Homework can consume hours of family time. Parents often become frustrated or angry with a child if he keeps getting in trouble at school or ‘acting out’ with friends or siblings. Particularly if parents did well in school or sports, they may not be able to relate to their child’s struggles and suspect that their child is not trying or that he’s just ‘bad.’

Dealing with difficulty in school, awkwardness in social settings, poor performance in physical activities, and strained relationships with parents is a lot for a child to handle. While children with other learning disabilities may excel in sports or sociability, vision problems interfere more often beyond the classroom. Falling behind academically and being treated differently by peers and adults can lead to low self-esteem and withdrawal.

Fortunately, a personalized vision therapy program treats visual processing problems. Vision therapy, also known as vision training, is likely to significantly improve performance in academic, athletic, and social settings. In fact, one of the first benefits of vision therapy parents often report is that their child’s self-esteem improves dramatically shortly after starting a vision therapy program.

Dr. Philip Nicholson’s Visual Learning Center treats visual processing problems with individualized vision therapy programs in our Olney, MD office, convenient to Silver Spring. Contact us today to schedule a comprehensive exam and consultation.

girl reading

How will vision therapy help my child in reading?


Although it may not seem apparent at first, reading can be extremely difficult for a child with visual problems. When learning-related vision problems go undetected, a child might seem to be picking up on words and demonstrating comprehension initially, but overall performance and literacy will suffer.

Studies have revealed that the greater the amount of effort a child must put forth to read, the lower the child’s overall reading performance and comprehension will be. Reading requires prolonged fixation on reading materials, so the effort necessary to read is particularly challenging if the child has visual deficiencies, such as oculomotor and binocular weakness.

For a person to read, it is necessary for the two eyes to be properly aimed at text, so the eyes must turn inward. For some children, the eyes will naturally turn outward; and this deviation — even if slight and unnoticeable to parents or teachers — means that the child must use excess effort and energy to maintain fixation on the reading material.

If a child is unable to aim his or her eyes inwardly easily, he or she may not see every word in sequential order.  Instead, the child’s eyes may skip words or phrases, bounce around the text, and land at words sporadically.

A parent or teacher might notice that a student omits or adds words to make sense of a sentence, without actually seeing those words.

A child may be seeing double due to overlapping vision and experiencing headaches and eye fatigue as a result. But the child is often unable to express “seeing double” because he or she is unaware that the way they are seeing is not the correct way to see.

Vision therapy or vision training treats and quickly improves eye disorders by facilitating exercises and activities that strengthen existing weaknesses within the visual processing system.

Many children who participate in our vision therapy programs in Olney, Md. come to us having tested far below their current age levels in sensory skills, such as those related to oculomotor or binocular weakness.  Upon completing therapy, they retake the initial screening tests with impressive results.

Read some of our vision training success stories to learn more about how vision therapy can help your child in reading.  Contact us to learn more about how vision training can improve speed and accuracy of eye movements, visual concentration, letter reversals and other skills, making learning easier, faster, and more enjoyable.