Eye Exams for Babies

It's important to make sure your baby's vision is on track from an early age, so before you schedule another well-baby exam with the pediatrician, here's what you need to know about infant eye exams.
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Why are infant eye exams important?

You probably fell in love with baby's blues (or browns!) the first time you laid your own eyes on them, but you're not the only one who needs to pay attention to his peepers. "Eye exams are essential because babies' eyes are rapidly growing and developing during the first few years of life," says Anjali Rao, M.D., a pediatrician with the Northwestern Medical Group in Chicago. Throughout his first year, your baby will adapt to his vision, learning to move his eyes and focus on people and objects. Being able to see and having the brain interpret information visually are abilities that will be learned over time.

How -- and when -- should a baby's eyes be checked?

Newborns should have their eyes checked for infections, defects, cataracts, or glaucoma before leaving the hospital, says Deborah Ann Mulligan, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. "This is especially true for premature babies, babies who were given oxygen for an extended period, and babies with multiple medical problems."

During an exam, your baby's physician will look for signs of eye disease and check to see if the eyes are working properly. By the time your baby is 6 months old, doctors usually evaluate eye health, vision development, and eye alignment. And as your baby grows, doctors will check for abnormalities that can cause potential development issues.

Your baby's eyes should be checked during each well-baby visit.

What are signs of potential eye problems?

There are several eye issues that your baby's pediatrician might be concerned about, says Dr. Rao. Chronic tearing could indicate a blocked tear duct. Asymmetric eye movements (that persist at four months of life or older) can indicate a muscle weakness. And cloudiness of the conjunctiva of the eye can indicate cataract. Doctors also look for any indications of retinoblastoma, a rare tumor on the retina of the eye.

Keep in mind that eye issues can be genetic: "Children with a family history of childhood vision problems are more likely to have eye problems," Dr. Mulligan says. So make sure your baby's pediatrician knows your family's vision history.

Are you worried that your little one is having problems with his eyes? Learn what could be wrong and whether to call the doctor.

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