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When Should Your Child Have Their First Eye Exam?

When Should Your Child Have Their First Eye Exam?

You want to get your young children off to a good start in every way — and that includes their eye health. But when is the right time to start having your child’s eyes checked? Babies and toddlers can’t read an eye chart, after all. It’s best to start early.

It’s important not to delay eye exams for young infants and children because some early eye problems can affect vision for life. Finding a problem early can keep a minor issue from becoming something major (and harder to treat).

During back-to-school time, parents often find themselves going back and forth to the family doctor or pediatrician for well-child visits, sports physicals and vaccination updates. We all know the importance of preventive care to keep kids healthy and thriving, but what about your child’s eyes? When should you schedule your child’s first eye exam?

Most parents don’t schedule a regular eye exam for their preschooler unless there’s an obvious problem. Typically, this doesn’t show up until a school vision screening when a child is old enough to use an eye chart. However, while these school vision screenings are important, important problems may be missed that can affect your child’s eyesight and learning.

Clear vision supports safety, productivity, and peace of mind in people of all ages. That’s why taking your child for full eye exams with a qualified specialist is just as important as scheduling them for yourself. But when should children start going for their first official eye exams?

Let’s take a look at why eye exams matter for young people. Understanding the advantages of eye exams for children can help you determine when to start scheduling them for your kids.

WHEN DO CHILDREN NEED EYE EXAMS?

It is recommended to have a comprehensive eye exam by an eye care professional if possible by age 1, to be repeated before kindergarten in children without any evident eye problems. Pediatricians do perform limited eye examinations right after birth and in the first few years of life. These can detect a variety of abnormalities in the light reflex from the pupil and in the external aspects of the eye and the ocular alignment.

These exams become much more important in children who:

  • Have a sibling or a parent with a major eye problem, such as crossed or turned eye(s) (strabismus) or lazy eye (amblyopia).
  • Have an eye problem detected by a pediatrician.
  • Are suspected by parents of having an eye issue.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF EYE EXAMS

A quick eye check with a general practitioner or pediatrician isn’t the same as an eye exam conducted by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Doctors who do not specialize in vision care may be unable to detect conditions without visible symptoms. School vision screenings and sight tests conducted in retail stores are also insufficient to detect these problems.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists conduct much more comprehensive tests. They have the knowledge and equipment to measure numerous factors, including:

  • Movement and coordination of both eyes
  • Clarity of vision
  • Peripheral vision
  • Eye focus
  • Colour recognition
  • Depth perception

These details give experienced eye doctors a deeper understanding of each patient’s eyes, allowing them to detect a broader range of potential issues. Qualified specialists can also help patients with eye problems find effective treatments — such as eye exercises, corrective lenses, medication, and surgery.

HOW EYE EXAMS BENEFIT CHILDREN

One in four school-aged children in Canada experience vision disorders. While some are obvious, others are easily mistaken for other conditions — such as ADHD. Eye exams for children reduce the risk of misdiagnoses and make sure they can get the kind of help they need.

Vision can also affect a child’s quality of life in numerous other ways. Eye exams for kids can, therefore, help prevent additional challenges in the following areas:

School Performance

Vision can significantly impact a child’s ability to read, write, play sports, and engage in other everyday school activities. 88% of visually-impaired adults report that their eye problems had noticeable impacts on their education while growing up. Furthermore, they believe these impacts affected their prospects for higher education, career opportunities, and eventual employment.

Social Ability

Many friendships are formed on the playground or during team sports, so a child whose vision problems prevent these activities may find it harder to socialize. Social isolation can contribute to further behavioural problems during adolescence, highlighting the need for vision care even in young children.

Safety

Children who struggle to see clearly may be at greater risk of injury while performing everyday actions such as crossing the street. Diagnosing vision problems early not only allows for faster treatment — it also ensures that kids who need help with these tasks can have appropriate support until their eyesight is corrected.

WHAT AGE IS BEST FOR A CHILD’S FIRST EXAM?

Now that you understand the importance of comprehensive eye exams, it’s time to consider when to book your child’s first appointment. Just remember, eye exams aren’t one-off procedures — once it’s time for your child to start having them, you need to schedule them regularly.

We recommend that most children begin having full eye exams at six months old. While this may seem early, it’s vital for predicting vision challenges and other health concerns that might develop in future years. Most children need their second eye exam around age three, and another when they begin first grade.

Once children are in school, it’s best to schedule their eye exams once every two years. However, exams may be needed more frequently if your child’s eye doctor discovers vision problems that require correction. Such issues might include:

  • Amblyopia (also referred to as a “lazy eye”)
  • Strabismus (or “crossed eyes”)
  • Astigmatism (near- or far-sightedness in one or both eyes)
  • Epiphora (a condition that occurs when the tear duct becomes blocked)
  • Chalazion (a blocked gland in the eyelid that may cause swelling or discharge)

The above list includes some of the most common eye issues in children, but many other complications can also occur. Arranging eye exams for young children and continuing them routinely is the safest way to nip these in the bud.

HAPPY KIDS NEED HEALTHY EYES

The sooner you learn about your child’s vision, the better you can protect them from potential sight problems. Maintaining healthy eyesight will also help them grow up with additional opportunities and fewer risks. Help your kids see clearly so that they can reap all of these benefits, and use what you’ve learned in this guide to start scheduling their eye exams at the correct time.

Your Local Optometrist

Your child’s eyes constantly change through these formative years, so it’s vital to have an eye care team to help you and your child through any issues that might be discovered. Our Tonic Eye Care team is here in your community, ready to talk you through any concerns about your child’s visual health. 
Please feel free to reach out to us to schedule your child’s eye exam.

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