Each year, kids should have a full eye exam that includes visual acuity measurement of each eye at distance and near, alignment testing to make sure that the eyes are straight, and examination of the front part of the eye as well as a full dilated retinal exam.
In terms of ages, if there is not a recognized problem beforehand, kids will generally be cooperative for an eye exam around the age of three, and certainly by the age of five when they are about to enter kindergarten.
When asking yourself if your child should have an annual eye exam, we say YES! Many times, we pick up things during the eye exam, that are different from the reason why they came into the office. Kids and parents are not often aware that a child is seeing better out of one eye or the other, and there is only a limited time during childhood that we can offer treatment. The earlier that we make the diagnosis, the better the child will do in the long run.
Often, kids can experience significant vision changes from one school year to the next. The eyes and brains of children are unique. Kids can develop something called amblyopia – or a visual impairment in one or both eyes. There are various causes of amblyopia – uncorrected refractive error requiring glasses, eyes that are not fully aligned and working together, or anything that blocks the vision in one eye like a cataract or drooping eyelid. If kids are seeing well out of one eye, they don’t usually realize that the other is not seeing as well, and therefore don’t complain.
Vision screens and routine eye exams are important to pick up on this. As kid’s progress in age and school, their prescription for glasses may also change. At Children’s Hospital, we are now educating patients on the prevention of myopia, or near sightedness progression, and providing treatment when indicated.
Signs and symptoms parents should be on the lookout for are: listen to your child. If they are old enough to tell you that they are having trouble seeing, they are probably right. But kids often do not realize when they are not seeing clearly, or recognize that they are not seeing equally well from each eye. The reports from the primary care doctor or school vision screenings are helpful to pick up things not recognized at home. Observe your child at play or in photographs, to see if it appears that both eyes are moving and working together.
A child’s performance and behavior at school can also be affected by vision. If your child is not seeing clearly at distance or near can lead to inattention at school, and frustration when trying to do school work. It’s difficult for a child to enjoy reading when they have trouble seeing, or keeping focus on the pages of a book. They often will develop an aversion to reading, without realizing that it is a problem with their vision.
In the end, acting early to get your child’s eyes examined can affect how their vision develops for the rest of their life. We have a short window during childhood to treat many ocular conditions, and the earlier we can make the diagnosis, the earlier we can start treatment to enable equal vision in each eye, and the ability to use both eyes together.
For more information and how to make an appointment with our Eye Center, please visit www.chp.edu/CHP/ophthalmology.