Cute little boy visiting children's doctor, space for text. Eye Exams for Children

Children need good vision for healthy physical development. Young children are still developing their vision systems and the eyes and brain need to work together for normal development.  Impaired vision can affect a child’s day to day life in many different ways. They can struggle in school (some experts say 80% of learning is visual) and other organized activities, and it also impacts their enjoyment of playing and entertainment.

What are Early Signs of Vision Problems?

The American Public Health Association estimates that around 10% of preschoolers have vision impairments or eye problems. But children between 2 and 5 will probably not communicate that they are having issues the way an adult might. That means that, as a parent, you should pay attention to signs of eye problems. 

Signs of vision problems include:

  • Squinting
  • Rubbing eyes frequently
  • Sitting too close to the television
  • Holding books or other media too close to the face
  • Avoiding activities that require clearly seeing details like coloring and puzzles.
  • Light sensitivity
  • Problems with hand-eye coordination when playing
  • Tilting their head
  • An eye turned in or out

If you see these signs or other things that make you think your child is having trouble seeing, schedule an eye exam for them.

What is the Difference Between Vision Screenings and Eye Exams?

Because eyesight is so valuable, regular vision screenings are an important part of your child’s healthcare. Regular screenings will help identify problems, and the earlier an issue is detected, the better the outlook for treatment.

Your child’s pediatrician will conduct regular vision screenings during their annual well visits. Therefore, they are integral in the early detection of visual impairment and eye problems.

The difference between vision screenings and exams are how in-depth they are. A vision screening, as the name suggests, screens children to see if problems are present. An exam is more comprehensive and can be used to diagnose what the problem actually is, and then devise a treatment plan. A comprehensive eye exam is done by an optometrist or ophthalmologist.

What is Involved in Eye Exams for Children?

A child needs a comprehensive eye exam with an ophthalmologist or optometrist if any of the following are true:

  • The child shows the signs listed above or makes a complaint about their vision
  • The child has failed a vision screening
  • The child has been referred by their pediatrician, school nurse or another qualified individual
  • The vision screening is inconclusive
  • The vision screening cannot be performed
  • The child has a learning or developmental disability, or behavior issues
  • The child has certain medical issues or family history of vision problems such as amblyopia, strabismus, cataracts, glaucoma, or retinoblastoma

During a comprehensive eye exam, the doctor will dilate the pupils to look at the structure of the eye and the condition of the retina. They will also look at the area around the eye, check the movement of the eyes, how the eyes react to light, focus, binocular vision, and use vision charts to ascertain impairments.

When Should Children Get Eye Exams?

Children should undergo regular vision screenings from birth onward. The American Optometric Association (AOA) has detailed age-based guidelines about how vision should be monitored throughout the child’s life. As the child grows, the screenings and exams will look for specific things related to their development stages.

  • Birth – 24 Months: A baby’s vision will be checked at birth. Vision develops and changes in the first few months and your doctor can give you some milestones to look for. They will also complete a basic screening at each check-up. 
  • Ages 2-5: Children who are toddler to preschool age are going through the most drastic changes and growth in their motor skills and intellectual development. Vision is important in these processes. Parents of children ages 2 to 5 should lookout for signs of crossed eyes or lazy eye, as this is the age when these conditions usually become apparent. The earlier conditions like this are detected and treated, the more successful treatment often is.
  • Ages 6-18: School-aged children with vision problems that go uncorrected may have issues with their academics, social life, and athletic abilities. Children in this age group can usually articulate that they are having trouble seeing, but they may experience the symptoms listed above as well as headaches, double vision, excessive blinking, and issues with reading and comprehension.

How Often Should Children Get Eye Exams?

Children should get eye exams at different frequencies depending on their age. As a general guideline, children without impairments should be checked at least once every two years. Children with impairments should be screened at least annually or as their doctor recommends for their condition.

At HealthPark Pediatrics, your child’s overall health is our number one priority. Eye and vision health are an integral part of that. We include vision screenings as part of our annual well visits and can help you with the next steps if your child needs further vision care. Call us at 919-896-7066 to schedule an appointment, or request an appointment online.