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Does Your Child Need Glasses?

Here’s how to tell.

If your vision gets worse, you probably know you’re going to need glasses before you even go to the eye doctor. But little kids aren’t as good at telling you they might need spectacles. They might not even know their vision is less than sharp—especially if they haven’t yet learned how to read. While your child will likely get a vision test at their yearly pediatrician appointments, you may notice changes in between your visits. Look for these signs that you should bring your child in for a vision screening:

They squint, cover up one eye, or tilt their head: Your child is going to naturally want to focus on what they’re seeing, so they might instinctively try a few things to self-correct their vision. These kinds of actions can include squinting, putting a hand over one of their eyes, or changing their head’s angle. Squinting may be a sign that your child has a refractive error, whereas tilting their head or covering one eye might be a sign that their eyes are misaligned, or that your child has a lazy eye.

They hold things close to their eyes: If you notice your kid needs to hold books, tablets, or phones close to their face to see them, or if they tend to sit really close to the television, they might be nearsighted.

They tell you their head hurts or regularly rub their eyes: When a kid has a vision problem, their eyes can experience excessive strain or exhaustion throughout the day. This kind of pain can cause your kid to rub their eyes a lot or give them headaches.

If you do end up making an appointment for your kid to get their vision tested, the exam is pretty straightforward. There are a number of methods the doctor will use to screen your child’s vision, such as taking a light and shine it into your kid’s eyes—this helps the doctor see if the pupils are shaped correctly, are the same size, and react to light as they should. Then the doctor will use a tool called an ophthalmoscope or a special camera to see if there are refractive errors or other issues going on. If your child is older than 3, the doctor might also do a typical vision test (the kind where they are asked to read lines of letters). For kids who can’t read yet, the test might include shapes instead of letters. All these tests can be used to determine what’s going on with your kid’s vision and come up with the best treatment plan.

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