When Should a Child Have Their First Eye Exam?

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A young boy wearing a pair of trial frames as the female optometrist adjusts them.

When Should Children Have Their First Eye Exam?

Children learn by seeing what’s around them. The world can seem scary and confusing if they can’t see clearly and do not even realize they have visual issues. The Canadian Association of Optometrists states that 25% of school-aged children have vision problems. 

For those reasons, it’s crucial for children to have regular eye exams, as they can detect vision problems in childhood such as:

  • Refractive errors: Nearsightedness or myopia, farsightedness or hyperopia, and astigmatism. 
  • Strabismus: Also called crossed eye, walleye, or squint, is when both eyes don’t look at the same point at the same time. 
  • Amblyopia: Also called ‘lazy eye,’ is reduced vision in one eye. 

So let’s find out when a child needs to have their first eye exam

First Eye Exam in Children

The recommendation for a child’s first exam should be between 6 and 9 months of age. During the first 6 months, the baby’s eyes can seem cross-eyed or not aligned, which is normal and should go away. 

If not correct or treated with eyeglasses or vision therapy early on, it can lead to a nonfunctioning or lazy eye. Many parents are surprised when they learn that a child may have some vision problems before age one. 

A child’s first exam involves measuring pupil response, fixing and focusing on moving objects, hand-eye coordination, near vision, and depth perception. An eye exam in a child’s first year can ensure healthy eyes, good eye muscle movement, and proper alignment and help detect problems in visual skills development.

If there are no concerns from the first eye exam, your child’s next eye exam should be between 2 and 3 years, and the next one before starting school. Once they start school, a yearly eye exam ensures optimal vision and development. 

Tips to Make Their First Exam Enjoyable

Reassuring your child and making them comfortable in the optometrist’s office provides a positive experience and sets them up for successful future eye exams. 

  1. Prepare them by explaining what a visit and exam to the optometrist may look like at their level of understanding. 
  2. Schedule an appointment at the best time when children are well-rested and happy. 
  3. Complete all paperwork before arriving at the appointment, or bring some toys and books to keep them occupied while completing the paperwork in the optometrist’s office. 
  4. If they are nervous, sit in the examination chair with them on your lap. 
A young smiling girl sits in a pink optometrists chair while using a phoropter.

Benefits of a Child’s First Eye Exam

An eye exam is vital in maintaining children’s eye health at any age and is even more important in the early years of development when vision skills are developing rapidly. Children can potentially miss learning experiences because of vision problems. 

Benefits to a child’s first eye exam include:

  • Children may not complain or show obvious signs of a problem. The only way to confirm healthy functioning eyes at that stage is through an exam. 
  • Early detection of eye conditions can prevent changes in their vision later on.  
  • With an eye exam, early treatment of any condition can improve their performance, attention, focus and interaction. 

Signs of Visual Problems

Since some children can’t verbally express if something is wrong in their vision, it’s up to the parents to look out for signs affecting their vision. 

  • Frequent eye rubbing
  • Blinking a lot
  • Squinting eye
  • Covering or closing one eye
  • Head tilting
  • Unable to maintain eye contact
  • Red, itchy, or watering eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • The eyes turn in or out
  • Holding objects too close
  • Frustration
  • Poor tracking

If your child experiences or you notice any of these signs and haven’t had their first exam yet, visit your optometrist immediately to rule out any eye conditions. 

Their Future Vision

Vision affects every aspect of a child’s learning and development. Following the guidelines for eye examinations and looking out for signs of vision problems are some ways to protect your child’s eyesight and future. 

In some cases, eye exams can occur earlier or later than the recommended times and can depend on the advice of your optometrist. Eye exams pick up eye problems early and check visual skill development and adequate development of the eyes. 
Book an appointment at Cowichan Eyecare to learn more about vision therapy and how it can help address visual issues in children.

Written by Cowichan

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