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When Should You Take Your Child for Their First Eye Exam?

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Portrait of young child with eye exam charts in background

Eye exams should be a regular part of your child’s life as they grow. These examinations are crucial for protecting their vision and catching early signs of eye disease

With how important these exams are, when should your child have their first? Continue reading to learn more about children’s eye exams, including why they’re important, what to expect, and when your child should have their first one. 

What Is an Eye Exam? 

No matter your age, eye exams are vital for your ocular health and vision. These examinations help your optometrist assess your vision and look for signs of eye disease

Eye exams are especially important for children. Their eyes are constantly developing as they grow, and many complications can arise during this time. Various eye conditions can develop between ages 2 to 5, and your eye doctor can identify them during a comprehensive eye exam. 

The Importance of Children’s Eye Exams

Your child reads, writes, plays, and interacts with other people every day during school and other activities. Nearly 80% of children’s learning is visual, and your child will learn many different visual skills as they grow. 

Without regular eye exams, your child may have an eye condition without knowing. An undiagnosed problem, like a refractive error, may seem insignificant, but it can affect a child’s school performance, social connections, and confidence

Eye Exams Help Protect Your Child’s Vision

Vision problems can be more common in children than you think. Approximately 20% of preschool-age children have a vision-related issue. Many eye conditions can be present from birth or develop in childhood. 

Certain eye diseases can worsen with time, putting your child at risk of damaged vision. An example of this is myopia—a refractive error that can increase your risk of eye disease in adulthood.

Your child may not notice they have a vision problem if they have issues from a young age. As a parent, there are several signs you can look out for to know if you need to visit your eye doctor. 

Some of these symptoms include

  • Constant eye rubbing
  • Headaches
  • Trouble participating & focusing in sports, school, & projects
  • Sitting close to digital screens & other presentations
  • Difficulty seeing far distances

Eye exams can help protect your child’s eye health, and they should have several examinations as they grow. With many tests needed to get a picture of their ocular health, what happens during your child’s eye exam? 

Optometrist conducting eye exam on young girl at eye doctors clinic

What Happens During Your Child’s Eye Exam? 

What happens during a children’s eye exam depends on how far they are in their development. Your optometrist will decide the most appropriate tests for your child’s examination. Overall, you can expect the following during a children’s eye exam: 

Medical History

An eye exam typically begins with a discussion about your child’s eye health. Your eye doctor will ensure your child’s medical and family history is up-to-date to determine if there are any health issues to be aware of. 

You can ask any questions you may have during this time. 

Visual Acuity 

Visual acuity is how well your child can naturally see. Your optometrist will use a Snellen eye chart to test your child’s visual acuity if they can understand letters.

Another important part of the eye exam is a refraction test. This test features a phoropter and helps determine how light bends as it enters your eye. Your optometrist can identify any refractive errors during this portion of the exam, such as: 

Eye Health Examination

Your doctor can identify signs of eye diseases during this part of your child’s exam. Many eye diseases can develop without noticeable symptoms, potentially leading to severe vision loss. 

Your optometrist can look at structures of the eye and surrounding tissue to identify any present problems. They can use available technology like optical coherence tomography to get a detailed look at your eye. 

Findings & Recommendations 

The last parts of your child’s examination include your eye doctor’s overall findings and recommendations. They’ll explain how they can help maintain your child’s eye health and vision. If your child needs glasses, they’ll work with the optical team to find the right pair of frames for their needs. 

Now that you know what happens during a children’s eye exam, when should your child have their first? 

When Should Your Child Have Their First Eye Exam? 

Your child’s first eye exam should happen sometime within their first year of living. A comprehensive examination of your child’s eyes should happen when they’re 6 to 12 months old. 

At 12 months or younger, your optometrist will check the following during their exam: 

  • Signs of a refractive error
  • Signs of amblyopia
  • How their eyes move
  • If their eyes are aligned correctly 
  • How their eyes react to changes in light & darkness

Your child will need more eye exams as they grow. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, your child’s next examination should happen when they’re 12 to 36 months old. The overall eye examination frequency should go as follows: 

  • 6–12 months
  • 12–36 months 
  • 3–5 years
  • Annually after age 5 

Take Care of Your Child’s Ocular Health 

Regular eye exams are crucial for protecting your child’s vision as they grow. While there is an examination frequency guideline, listen to your optometrist’s recommendation and don’t ignore signs of any issues. 

Contact your eye doctor if your child needs an eye exam or has symptoms of a vision problem. 

Written by Daniel Rowan

Reno optometrist, Dr. Daniel Rowan, was raised in Western Canada and attended Norwich University in Vermont on a hockey scholarship. After obtaining a Bachelor of Science degree in both biology and sports medicine, he received his Doctor of Optometry (OD) degree from the New York College of Optometry in 2001. He performed rotations in a Queens VA hospital, specializing in glaucoma care, and an outpatient eye clinic in the Bronx. Immediately after graduating, he moved to Nevada and is now considered a top Reno optometrist. He is a member of the American Optometric Association and is board-certified by the National Board of Examiners in Optometry for the treatment and management of ocular diseases.
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