Family & Sports

Eye Exams for Children: What Parents Need to Know

Andrea Castagno
August 24, 2017

Crawling, walking, talking—all of your child’s firsts are thrilling, and usually occur after a lot of practice. A child’s eyesight also develops over time, as your child learns to focus, move their eyes accurately, and use both eyes together as a team.

Healthy eyes and good vision are an integral part of your child’s overall development. According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), 20% of preschoolers have vision problems and by the time they reach school, 1 in 4 will require or wear corrective lenses. Comprehensive eye exams for children are essential to detect any vision problems that may arise, and to prevent any correlating developmental delays.

We’ve broken down what you need to know about your kid’s eye exam: when to go, what the exam covers, how to prepare, and the best questions to ask.

When Should My Child Have An Eye Exam?
Your child’s visual acuity will sharpen at six months of age, which is when the AOA recommends that infants should have their first comprehensive eye exam. Your child’s next eye exam should be at 3 years of age and again before entering school, typically between 5 to 6 years old.

If there are no vision problems, the AOA recommends school-aged children get a comprehensive eye exam every two years. For children requiring corrective lenses, consult with your eye doctor to see if annual exams will suffice or if more frequent visits are required.


The Eye Exam: Infants
While it may seem early, your baby is ready for his or her first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months old. Your doctor will check the structure of your baby’s eyes to ensure they are developing correctly, test that their eyes are working well together, and screen for eye diseases.

The doctor will focus on testing for the following:

Although serious problems are not common at this age, early detection and treatment are key, and can provide the best opportunity to improve any problems.

The Eye Exam: Preschool Children
With the available tests and diagnostic equipment, a young child’s vision can be tested even if they do not yet know their ABCs or know how to read. A doctor can conduct a vision screening on a 3-year old child using eye chart tests, letters, pictures, or a tumbling E chart.

If using a tumbling E chart, your child will be asked to use one of their hands and extend their fingers to mirror which direction the “fingers” of the E are pointing on the chart: up, down, left or right.

A pediatric eye exam will last approximately one hour. In this exam, the doctor will be checking to ensure your child’s vision is developing appropriately and will check for any focusing and
refractive issues, such as astigmatism, nearsightedness and farsightedness, as well as test the following:

  • Lazy eye (amblyopia) – Most common cause of vision problem in children, lazy eye is also fully correctable when diagnosed early.
  • Crossed eye (strabismus) – Involves one or both eyes turning either inward or outwards; can also cause amblyopia.
  • Focusing (accommodation) – Ability of the eye to automatically change its focus from seeing at one distance to another.
  • Color vision – Assessed with a color blind test for kids
  • Depth perception – Ability to gauge distances between objects

The doctor may use spray or drops to dilate your child’s pupils in order to get a better look inside the eye at the retina, optic nerve and blood vessels. The eye drops may sting and cause blurriness, but only for a short time.

Your child’s next exam, unless advised otherwise by your doctor, should be prior to entering school, usually between 5 to 6 years old. A doctor will be able to compare the results of this exam with the earlier exam to analyze how your child’s vision is developing.

Preparing For Your Child’s Eye Exam
When scheduling an appointment for your child, ask the office how long the exam will take and aim to schedule the appointment either before or after your child’s naptime, hopefully increasing your chances for an alert and happy child.

To prepare for the exam, ensure you have the following information ready for your appointment:

  • Medical history for your child, including any medical problems, allergies, or surgical procedures
  • Family history of vision problems
  • List of any medications your child may be taking
  • If your child has been previously treated with glasses or contact lenses, bring them to the examination.
  • List of questions for the doctor

What to Ask at The Eye Exam
Although serious problems are not common, if your child is diagnosed with any vision issues, it’s important you’re on the same page with your doctor. We’ve rounded up a list of potential questions to ask to ensure you’re in the know:

  • What is the name of my child’s vision problem?
  • What caused the eye problem? Is it an inherited condition?
  • What is the recommended treatment?
  • Do you have any suggestions for resources to get more information?
  • When should we make another appointment?
  • Are there things I should watch out for between appointments? If I see any of them, should I bring my child in or just call the office?
  • Is there anything else you think we need to know?

Ongoing Pediatric Eye Care
Your child’s vision is an integral part of their overall growth and development, helping them learn essentials skills that will prepare them for school. Comprehensive eye exams conducted at key developmental milestones in your child’s early years can help with detection, diagnosis, and early treatment of eye conditions, keeping them on track to have the visual skills necessary to thrive at school.

Check out for a list of locations near you to schedule an eye exam for your child.