If you have a baby or young child, eye exams are important. Even before they can read, babies should have a routine screening as early as six months to ensure that their eyes are developing properly.
Eye Exams by Age
For newborns, most of their world is fuzzy, so don’t expect them to focus well on faces or their toys. Infants also lack tear production in the first few weeks to months of life. Once tear production begins, a small percentage of infants will show a persistent eye “watering.” This is due to the lacrimal duct not opening fully to drain excess tears. This duct will usually open within a few weeks naturally, but you can assist with gentle massage. While breast or bottle feeding, use your index finger to gently roll or wipe your finger from the corner of the eye toward and down the side of the nose. Be careful not to scratch the skin with your fingernail. Do this at each feeding and consult with your eye doctor if you do not see improvement after a few weeks.
When to go:
Anytime for acute issues such as pink eye, injury, or when you suspect a problem.
Babies as young as six-months can have their eyes examined. Optometrists will examine eye muscle coordination, eye health inside and out, and tell you if your little one will need optical correction to ensure normal development. Certain developmental milestones such as tracking, color vision and clear vision occur at different stages of growth. We look to see that expected milestones are being reached and address others that are not.
When to go: A screening with your eye doctor should be done between six-months and their first birthday.
Preschool and beyond
Young children should have their eyes checked annually. Doctors will test visual acuity and eye function, as well as examine eye health. A common misconception is that kids need to know their letters to have an eye exam. In reality, we can assess each area of the visual system without a verbal response. As they mature, our findings can be refined with subjective input from the child. Keep in mind that 90% of a child’s learning is visual. Don’t assume they have great vision just because they can spot things far away. Often times, children are straining to maintain focus or favoring only one eye. The longer this occurs, the more likely are they are to fall behind developmentally.
When to go: Comprehensive exams can be performed by age 3. Annual follow-ups are usually adequate, but some children may experience more rapid changes in vision. Always bring them back sooner if you notice problems (e.g. squinting, headaches, closing or covering one eye, getting too close to reading material, or struggling with particular subjects in school).
What to expect at the child’s eye exam
For younger children, we recommend scheduling their appointment during their “happy” time of day. If the child is hungry, tired, or irritable, examination can be much more difficult. Generally, children find the exam to be fun and interesting.
It can also be helpful to schedule multiple appointments for the family together. Sometimes, young children will be more adventurous after watching a sibling or parent sit for their examination first.
Dilation is often a component of the exam. These drops may sting for 5-10 seconds but can be very helpful to the clinician. Dilation helps to open the pupil to see more of the inside of the eye. They also relax accommodation (or focusing) to help determine the best prescription for clear, comfortable vision. We give children sunglasses and a trip to the treasure box at the completion of the exam.
Have questions? Talk to a member of our staff.