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Children’s Eye Exams: What To Expect

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Optometrist performing eye exam on young boy

Children can have their first comprehensive eye exam as early as 6 months of age. If you suspect your child is having problems with their eyesight, book an eye exam for them as soon as possible. If any problems with your child’s eyes go undiagnosed, it can greatly impact their ability to learn at school and will affect the quality of their eyesight later on in life.

What to Expect From Your Child’s First Eye Exam

A children’s eye exam will typically start with questions about their family and medical history. During the exam, your optometrist will test your child for any signs of eye diseases. Your optometrist will also test for any refractive errors and will pay close attention to your child’s visual acuity and binocular vision. Lastly, your optometrist will also assess your child’s general eye health. If any particular issues are present, your optometrist will strategize with you on how to manage the problem. 

How Often Should Your Child Get an Eye Exam?

Children can have their first comprehensive eye exam as early as 6 months of age, then they should have their eyes examined at age 3 and just before they enter the first grade (age 5 or 6). School-aged children should have an eye exam at least every 2 years if no vision correction is required.

Your optometrist may recommend more frequent examinations if your child is struggling with more severe vision problems or eye health. 

Vision Skills

These are skills that are important for the healthy development of your child’s eyes:

Signs That Your Child Needs Corrective Lenses

Proper development of healthy eyes at a young age greatly impacts your child’s ability to grow and learn. Knowing some of the signs that indicate that your child may need corrective lenses is important to consider before taking your child in for their first eye exam.

Young boy squinting to be able to see board as he takes notes in his notebook

Squinting Eyes and Tilting Head

If you find your child is squinting or tilting their head when they are looking at things far away, it may be a sign that they have myopia (nearsightedness). If myopia is diagnosed early on in a child’s life, effective control measures can be taken to lessen its effects. Some of the measures include atropine eye drops, and specialty myopia control glasses or contact lenses.

Covering One Eye to See

This might indicate that your child sees better out of one eye compared to the other. Your child may have amblyopia or astigmatism in one eye. These conditions can range from severe to almost negligible;  booking an eye exam for your child is the best way to see if they need glasses as a correctional measure for their eyesight. An easy way to tell which eye your child is having trouble with is by covering each of their eyes one at a time then asking them what they can see and which eye sees more clearly.

Extreme Light Sensitivity and Headaches

This issue can arise due to your child being photophobic (sensitive to light). Special eyeglass lenses and sunglasses can help reduce the severity of your child’s sensitivity to light and can help them see more clearly in bright conditions. 

If your child is getting headaches when they are outside for some time, this can be a sign that they are photophobic. 

Losing Their Place While Reading

Astigmatism or strabismus can be the root cause of your child losing their place while reading. If your child signifies to you that they cannot make sense of what is on a page or says that the text they try to read gets distorted or blurry, this can be an indication that they need glasses. Getting your child to read aloud to you can be a great way to build up their literacy skills, but also gives you a chance to monitor their eyesight and ability to read text. 

Sitting Very Close to Screens

If your child needs to sit very close to screens to see them clearly or needs to get very close to written text to read it, it can be another sign that they have myopia. Being too close to digital screens can have detrimental effects on eyesight at an early age, and eyeglasses should be considered to alleviate the issues your child is having with myopia.

Performance in School 

Your child may be having difficulties in school due to not being able to see the information on computers and whiteboards. Most often it is an issue dealing with nearsightedness, but other ailments such as color blindness may be the cause of their impaired vision. Ask your child if they think reading the information on a whiteboard is hard, and ask them where they sit relative to the board in their classroom. This will give you an indication of the eyesight issue that might be prevalent.

Written by Dr. Robert MacAlpine

Dr. MacAlpine graduated from Queen’s University, and attended the New England College of Optometry in Boston, MA. He graduated in 1999 with clinical and academic honours and was recipient of the Alcon Award for Most Outstanding Contact Lens Clinician. His internships included Pediatric and Low Vision focused training, several Veteran Affairs Hospitals in the greater Boston area, and the Barnet Dulaney Cataract and LASIK Center in Phoenix, Arizona. After graduating, Dr. MacAlpine established a successful practice and optical store in the Boston area. Practicing in the United States allowed him privileges of treatment and prescribing for eye diseases that were not permitted to Ontario Optometrists until 2011. Robert was thrilled to return to his native Ontario in 2011 to raise his two daughters, Deanna and Ella with his wife Amy. He enjoys playing hockey and being active with his family.
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