When Should A Child Get an Eye Examination?  The visual system of the newborn is poorly developed. Within the first six months of life, rapid changes occur in visual acuity, accommodation, and binocular vision. Interference with development during this very critical phase may lead to serious lifelong effects on vision. Successful treatment can be obtained more quickly with early intervention.

According to the American Optometric Association Pediatric Eye Exam Guidelines, a child should first visit an optometrist for an initial comprehensive eye exam at six months of age. The optometrist will check for symptoms of eye disease, crossed-eyes, lazy eye and developmental problems. Infants and toddlers too young to talk or to identify letters and numbers can be examined with the sophisticated equipment available today.

The child should have another eye examination at age three. The doctor will check eye health, eye movement skills, focusing abilities and whether or not common vision problems like nearsightedness or farsightedness are present. An estimated one percent of preschoolers are nearsighted and about seven percent are sufficiently farsighted to require vision correction. Astigmatism significant enough to require treatment affects about two percent of preschoolers.

75,000 three year old children develop amblyopia each year. Amblyopia is responsible for loss of vision in more people under 45 years of age than all other ocular diseases and trauma combined.  It is estimated that 2-3 percent of healthy infants born each year will suffer visual loss from amblyopia. The important thing to know is that if diagnosed early, it is highly treatable and the vision of the child can be saved. Treatment before age five is best to reverse the condition. Successful remediation is much more difficult after age 6.

Vision screenings often miss amblyopia. Young children do not realize that they are not seeing any differently than anyone else. A comprehensive eye examination by an optometrist is recommended to insure that your child is able to learn to see and see to learn.

What is InfantSEE?  InfantSEE is a public health program designed to ensure that optometric eye and vision care becomes an integral part of infant wellness care to improve a child’s quality of life. For further information and to sign up as a provider, go to this link

Learning Through Sight.  About 75% of the school day is spent in visual activities – mainly reading and writing – and 80% of what a child learns is through the sense of sight.  While school screenings and nurses are able to spot some vision deficiencies, many escape unnoticed.  In fact, the standard reading chart detects only 5% of children’s vision problems – it tells only if your child can clearly see letters 20 feet away.  Many school districts do not test the abilities to see at near, reading and writing distance, where most learning takes place.

A seven-year, ongoing study of more than 10,000 eye evaluations of three-year olds has shown a consistent 14% rate of previously undetected deficiencies.  In another survey, of more than 7,000 children 6-11 years of age, 9.2% had an eye muscle imbalance, a disease condition, or other abnormality in one or both eyes.  A significant number also had conjunctivitis.  And a recent study found that 15% of those entering high school had myopia, or nearsightedness.  An unknown proportion of these students had not had their condition previously diagnosed.

Given such findings, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recently begun recommending annual eye examinations for all children.  The American Optometric Association (AOA) has long had a similar recommendation.

An examination is particularly important if your child exhibits any of these signs of possible eye problems:

  • Loses place while reading.
  • Avoids close work.
  • Holds books closer than normal.
  • Tends to rub the eyes.
  • Has frequent headaches.
  • Turns or tilts the head, or squints, to use only one eye.
  • Uses finger to maintain place while reading.
  • Omits or confuses small words when reading aloud.
  • Consistently performs below academic potential.

Sources: www.eyenet.org and “Pediatric Eye and Vision Examination,” published by the AOA.