Regular eye exams are important for children since their eyes can change significantly as they develop. Good eyesight is critical for a child’s life and achievements since success in school is closely tied to eye health. School demands intense visual involvement, including reading, writing, using computers, and smartboard work. Even physical activities and sports require strong vision. If their eyes are not up to the task, a child may feel tired, have trouble concentrating, have problems in school or have difficulty playing their favorite games which may affect their overall quality of life.
According to research, a healthy child should have an initial evaluation between 6 and 12 months of age. After that, routine eye health exams should be performed yearly to help detect any abnormalities as their eyes develop.
In the case that the baby is premature or at high risk for medical problems for other reasons, has signs of abnormalities, or has a family history of serious vision disorders in childhood, the optometrist should perform a comprehensive exam before the 6 to 12 month visit.
The 6 to12 month examination includes tests of pupil responses to evaluate whether the pupil opens and closes properly in the presence or absence of light, a test to determine whether the baby can fixate on an object such as a light and follow it as it moves, and a preferential looking test which uses cards that are blank on one side with stripes on the other side to attract the gaze of an infant to the stripes and thus vision capabilities can be assessed. Infants should be able to perform this task well by the time they are this age.
By age 3, a child’s visual acuity and eye alignment should be assessed. If the child is diagnosed with misaligned eyes (strabismus), "lazy eye” (amblyopia), refractive errors (astigmatism, myopia, hyperopia) or any other focusing problems, it is important to begin treatment as soon as possible to ensure successful vision correction and life-long benefits.
Most school age children should have a comprehesive eye exam similar to what you would expect as an adult. In this age group, nearsightedness (myopia) is the most common refractive error and can be corrected with eyeglasses.
There are some signs that parents can tell if their child has a vision problem. For example, the child may squint, hold reading materials very close to their face, or complain about things appearing blurry. However, there are some less obvious signs that may indicate vision problems, such as having a short attention span, quickly losing interest in games, projects or activities that require using their eyes for an extended period of time, or losing their place when reading. They may choose to avoid reading, drawing, playing games or doing other projects that require focusing up close. Another sign is that a child may turn his or her head to the side when looking at something in front of them. This may be a sign of a refractive error, including astigmatism, and by turning their head it helps the child see better.
That is why it is so important for kids to have regular, comprehensive eye exams with an optometrist. The earlier a vision problem is found and treated, the better off your child will be in and out of school.