When should you have your child’s eyes checked?
Ask Wendy Marsh-Tootle, O.D., of the University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB), and she’ll tell you it’s never too early for an eye exam — especially if you suspect that your child has an eye or vision problem.
“Eye doctors can conduct an eye exam long before a child can talk, so get your baby’s eyes checked early if you suspect an eye or vision problem,” says Dr. Marsh-Tootle, an associate professor and director of pediatric services for UAB’s School of Optometry.
Ideally, all children should have their eyes examined by an eye doctor at least by the time they enter school. In fact, the American Optometric Association suggests that children should have their first regular eye exam at 6 months. Follow-up exams should occur at age 3 and again just prior to starting school. If a problem is found, more frequent care may be necessary.
For young children without obvious signs of an eye or vision problem, Dr. Marsh-Tootle says eye doctors rely on pediatricians to screen for some important problems at key ages. “A baby’s visual system is very immature at birth and develops very rapidly, so newborn screenings by the pediatrician are very important,” she points out. “For example, rare problems such as cataracts must be treated within the first few weeks of life or normal vision will never develop.”
So what’s a parent to do? Keep a watchful eye, so to speak, on your child’s eyesight from infancy through adolescence.
“After the first few weeks of life, your baby should seem to look at you,” Dr. Marsh-Tootle says. “After a few months, he or she should use the eyes together more and more. If your baby does not appear to use his or her eyes together normally by the sixth month, get a checkup from an eye doctor.”
Once children reach preschool age, it’s important to have them checked for “lazy eye,” as well as for risk factors including high refractive error or strabismus. Treatment of these conditions before the child enters school is easier on everyone.
Finally, once your child starts school, be sure to have his or her eyes checked for focusing problems and for nearsightedness. “Both are common conditions that develop during school years, so it’s a good idea to get a checkup periodically, particularly if your child is struggling with school work,” says Dr. Marsh-Tootle. “Most eye problems are easily treated once the problem is diagnosed.”
According to Wendy Marsh-Tootle, O.D., infants should visit an eye doctor if they have:
- Poor focus on objects after 3 months of age.
- Eyes that are not straight.
- An eyelid that is droopy.
- A family history of serious eye problems.
- A watery eye with overflow tearing.
- Children should have an eye examination if they:
- Have a red eye with or without discharge.
- Squint their eyes to read or see small objects.
- Complain of blurred distant vision.
- Blink their eyes excessively.
- Complain of headaches or double vision.