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Notice your child squinting more than usual? Are they sitting a little too close to the television? It’s easy for children’s eye health to be, well, overlooked. But getting regular eye checkups with an ophthalmologist is a crucial part of keeping up with your child’s development. From their academic needs to their hand-eye coordination, having clear vision is a pretty big priority.
If you have children, it’s never too early (or too late!) to start a proactive eyecare routine. Read on to learn our answers to the most common concerns parents and caregivers have.
Why are eye exams important for children?
As with most health-related issues, taking a proactive approach to eyecare is an extremely important part of a child’s development. Routine eye exams can detect and diagnose vision problems before they worsen or develop into more serious issues.
For example, undetected eye issues can affect a child’s ability to read books, see the board at school, or participate in sports and other activities. In fact, roughly 80% of what a child learns in school is presented visually. And if eye health isn’t introduced at a young age, children might think that their blurry vision is normal and nothing to vocalize about.
Plus, much like adults, children are susceptible to eye diseases and problems. Two of the most common conditions are strabismus and amblyopia.
In strabismus, the eyes are not aligned together — one eye might look straight, while the other might look inward, outward, up, or down. Children who have other conditions that affect development (like cerebral palsy, down syndrome, prematurity, or brain tumors) are especially susceptible.
Amblyopia is often referred to as “lazy eye.” It’s a condition in which a person has poor sight in one eye, which can result in more serious and permanent issues (think visual defects and depth perception troubles) as a child grows into adulthood.
At what age should you bring your child to the eye doctor?
According to the American Optometric Association, infants should have their first comprehensive eye exam at six months of age — but many do not. (Around 85% of preschoolers haven’t had an eye exam, and less than 22% have a proper vision screening before starting grade school.) After the initial screening at six months old, the AOA recommends another checkup at three years, and another before first grade.
A child’s vision changes and develops rapidly, so it’s important to prioritize those annual eye doctor visits, especially if your child needs glasses.
What to expect at your child’s eye exam
Your eye doctor (or pediatric ophthalmologist) will examine the front part of your child’s eyes during their pediatric eye exam, including the eyelids, cornea (the clear covering over the front of their eyes), and lens. Next, your eye doctor will dilate your child’s eyes. Eye examinations are generally nothing to be afraid of, but this part might be uncomfortable, as the drops may sting for a moment. (And after the appointment, your child may be sensitive to light and find it difficult to read.)
After the drops are in, your child’s eye exam will typically include three different tests.
A vision test, to test how well your child sees at different distances. This is calculated using a standard eye chart with letters or shapes.
A pupil test, which is done by shining a bright light in each eye to see if the pupils react normally.
An eye movement test, in which your eye doctor moves a finger or object in different directions to see how your child follows it.
Usually, your eye doctor will also provide you and your child with age-appropriate eyecare advice on how to keep their eyes safe from injury and disease. This education and encouragement is also helpful for children to learn just how important their eyes are — and take these practices long into adulthood.
How to know if your child needs glasses
While not an exhaustive list, these are the most common signs and symptoms found in children that experience vision problems.
Squinting. A telltale sign of vision problems, squinting helps to temporarily focus on an object.
Tilting his or her head. A child may tilt his or her head as a reaction to try to see things more clearly.
Sitting close to the television or holding handheld devices too close. These behaviors are common in those that have nearsightedness, or clear vision at close range and poor vision at a faraway distance.
Persistent headaches. If a child has headaches or eye pain, he or she might be straining their eyes to increase focus as a result of blurred vision.
Having difficulty concentrating. From blackboards to the paper at their desk, children have to focus on many different objects at many different distances during the school day — or even during sports and play. This could result in a lack of focus in whatever activity they are doing.
Rubbing eyes excessively. This might be a sign of eye strain, eye fatigue, or an eye allergy.
Should you get vision insurance for your child?
We Vision in children can change quickly and replacing glasses can be costly — but essential. If you have a family (and especially a child who wears glasses), a vision insurance plan can help you save on their vision care costs. From copays as low as $15 to annual allowances on eyewear, a low-cost vision insurance plan could mean more money in your pocket — as much as $400 annually!
When it comes to your child’s overall health and wellness, their eyes play a crucial role. And one of the best ways to make sure that they are set up for success is by prioritizing their annual visit to the eye doctor — because it means so much more than just getting a pair of glasses. (Though we’ll admit — it’s pretty fun to pick out a new pair of frames!)