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Child Eye Health: When to Get an Eye Exam, From Birth to Kindergarten

childrens eye exam

Children can suffer from many kinds of eye problems or vision issues. Several of these conditions could go untreated for months or years because parents are unaware that something is the matter. The Centers for Disease Control reports that only about 15 percent of preschoolers receive a comprehensive eye exam, and less than a quarter even get a vision screening. With a better understanding of the reasons to get childhood eye exams, parents can better ensure a lifetime of good vision for their children.

Routine Eye Exams for Children

The very first eye exams that children receive are designed to look for various conditions affecting eye health, not just vision. At birth, an infant’s eyes are inspected to look for basic eye function, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. When the baby is about six months, his/her pediatrician will likely do another check for eye health. It is not until the child is in preschool that most vision exams happen, with the child’s feedback. Children with no risk factors for vision problems and no family history of serious vision disorders may only receive a vision screening. Sometimes, screenings are ineffective if the child is uncooperative. If this is the case, parents should plan to seek another screening at a later date. Parents may also request a comprehensive eye exam when they are concerned about potential vision problems.

What is a Vision Screening?

Many preschools or kindergarten classes offer vision screenings to children between the ages of three and five. These tests are designed to help identify potential vision problems in small children, at the age at which these issues are more likely to present themselves, when the child is old enough to give feedback about what s/he can see. Screenings are typically very short, designed to give parents basic feedback about the likelihood that their children may have a developing vision problem. They are not intended to replace a comprehensive eye exam, which will test for specific visual problems or other eye concerns. When a child “fails” a vision screening, it is important to follow up on the result with an optometrist or pediatric ophthalmologist.

Common Childhood Eye Conditions

There are dozens of potential eye conditions that are diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam, but only some of them commonly occur during childhood. As a whole, children may have visual acuity that is better than their parents. The exceptions to the rule include:

  • amblyopia (“lazy eye”)
  • strabismus (“crossed eyes”)
  • myopia (nearsightedness)
  • astigmatism

Amblyopia and strabismus can be fairly easy to spot, as they indicate a condition in which the eyes are inclined to turn inward. In amblyopia, one eye is stronger than the other and the child comes to rely on the stronger eye to see. With a comprehensive eye exam, glasses and treatment with patching, many children with amblyopia can strengthen the muscles and their vision in their non-dominant eye. Strabismus may occur in one or both eyes, and often requires surgery to correct. If the condition is left untreated for long, the child’s body could minimize vision in one eye to decrease the presence of double vision.

By comparison, myopia and astigmatism may be more complicated to identify. Myopia makes it harder for children to see clearly at a distance, which may make reading from a blackboard or observing signs more difficult. Astigmatism is the term for a unique shape of the eye’s crystalline lens, which allows the eye to focus on objects. The condition makes it difficult for the child to focus on fine details. Glasses can correct both of these vision problems, after a comprehensive eye exam to determine an accurate prescription.

Signs of Vision/Eye Problems

Parents sometimes feel like they have made a terrible error in not discovering an eye condition much earlier than they did. However, common eye problems may be difficult to assess, especially in younger children who lack the ability to effectively articulate their visual acuity. If children display any of the following signs of vision problems, their parents should seek an eye exam:

  • sitting too close to the television
  • problems with reading ability or comprehension
  • complaints about difficulty in school
  • headaches originating in the eyes
  • dry, itchy eyes
  • swollen or blocked tear ducts
  • red or runny eyes
  • double vision

Eye conditions may manifest themselves differently among children, but the effects could be long-term for children who do not get treatment in a timely manner. For parents who are unsure if their child has a potential vision problem, it is typically better to rule out concerns as soon as possible.

Vision concerns can affect childhood development in ways that may surprise parents. Call (888) 701-0487 to schedule comprehensive eye exams from Sealy Eye Center, to protect your children’s eye health and treat problems more quickly.