Focus on Eye Exams

Get clear on this important part of your child's health.

Whether your child is just starting preschool or is heading to the next grade, you need to get her eyes checked. Having healthy vision makes it easier to concentrate and learn, and regular screenings can identify common eye problems that are treatable when they're caught early. In fact, according to the National Eye Institute, up to 15 percent of preschoolers have an eye condition that can lead to reduced vision or even blindness if it's not treated. Here's what you need to know.

  • How often: Kids should be screened three times in the first year, again at 3 and 5 years, then every two years from ages 5 to 18.
  • Who does it: Your child doesn't need to go to an eye doctor. Pediatricians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and other trained screeners can perform exams. Many pediatricians do screenings at well-child visits, and schools often give them yearly too (check to see whether your child's school does). Babies ages 6 to 12 months can also get free eye exams through the American Optometric Association's InfantSee program.
  • What's involved: The doctor or nurse will shine a small light into your child's eyes to check the pupils and eye alignment, and use a special scope to look for abnormalities at the back of the eye. Kids ages 3 and up will look at an eye chart with pictures or letters. "Preemies or kids with a family history of childhood eye problems may need a more detailed exam, including getting drops to dilate the eyes," says Michael Repka, MD, professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.
  • Look out for: The three most common childhood eye disorders are refractive disorders (nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism), amblyopia (decreased vision in one or both eyes that's often called lazy eye), and strabismus (eye misalignment). Amblyopia, which is hard for parents to detect, is treated with glasses and possibly an eye patch or drops. A child with strabismus or a refractive disorder will need glasses. "The earlier these vision problems are diagnosed, the easier and faster they are to treat," says Christie Morse, MD, president of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.
  • Next step If a screening reveals a potential problem, your child should see an ophthalmologist or optometrist who has experience with children for a more comprehensive exam.

Copyright © 2007. Used with permission from the September 2007 issue of Parents magazine.

All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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