For kids, a trip to the eye doctor can be both scary and exciting. They’re exposed to a new environment, all that strange equipment, plus attention from unfamiliar people. If this is your child’s first comprehensive eye exam, here’s what you and your little one can expect.

When to Go

Whether or not you suspect something’s amiss with your child’s vision, the American Optometric Association recommends that babies have an eye exam by the time they reach one year old. They should have another exam at least once between 3 and 5 years old, and once to twice a year after first grade until they graduate high school.

Depending upon your child’s eyes and vision, your eye doctor may recommend a different schedule.

How to Prepare

  • When you call to schedule an appointment, ask how long the exam will last.
  • If possible, aim to schedule during a time your child is alert. Avoid mealtimes or nap times.
  • Be ready to provide your child’s health history, including any current medications, allergies or past surgeries.
  • Be ready to provide a family history of vision problems.
  • Bring a list of questions you have for the doctor.
  • Show your child some YouTube videos of children having their first eye exam.
  • Let your child bring a favorite book, toy or stuffed animal to the appointment.

What Happens During an Exam

Your eye doctor is ready and trained to work with kids, and will likely pull out all the stops — from toys to silly faces to songs — to grab short attention spans and appease anxieties. The actual exam process will vary somewhat from eye doctor to eye doctor, but each exam is designed to catch vision issues and other eye problems as early as possible.

For Infants

Babies’ visual systems develop at a remarkable rate between birth and age one. At first, their ability to focus is limited to the distance from their face to their parent’s face — about eight to 10 inches. As they grow, the eyes start working in concert and tracking objects, and visual skills like eye-hand coordination, color vision, and depth perception begin to develop.

By six months of age, your baby’s visual acuity should have sharpened, and it’s time for their first comprehensive eye exam (anywhere between six months and a year old is the recommended age).

What the eye doctor will look for:

  • Refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness or astigmatism)
  • Eye movement and focusing abilities
  • Reaction to light
  • Peripheral vision
  • Overall eye health, with a goal of ruling out certain eye diseases and conditions (including congenital cataracts and tumors)

What the eye doctor will do:
The doctor may assess your baby’s reaction to light or a toy or other object moving in front of his or her face, and will dilate your baby’s pupils using dilating eye drops. The eye doctor will also use an ophthalmoscope (a lighted instrument with a magnifying glass) to look at the entire eye and make sure the entire system is developing as it should.

For Preschool-Aged Children

When preschool-aged children build a block tower or draw a picture, they’re not just demonstrating creativity; they’re continuing to sharpen the visual skills that will help them be successful later in school, sports, and other activities.

What the eye doctor will look for:
In addition to checking for nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, your eye doctor will also watch for certain vision problems that can develop around this age. These include strabismus (misaligned or crossed eyes) or amblyopia (or lazy eye). He or she will also check for focusing problems, poor depth perception and color blindness.

What the eye doctor will do:
Your eye doctor will do a physical exam of your child’s eye anatomy, and check his or her vision using eye chart tests, pictures, letters, and even toys and games. Tests used at this age are intended to be engaging and even fun, while allowing the doctor to check for visual acuity and any vision errors or eye health issues.

The doctor may also use drops – with your permission and your child’s — to dilate your preschooler’s pupils, allowing for a better look at the retina, optic nerve and blood vessels. These drops might sting a little and make your child’s vision blurry for a short time.

For School-Aged Children

Because vision is inextricably linked to the learning process, it’s important for routine exams, even if your child receives a vision screening at school. Everything from athletic performance to reading and even socializing can be influenced by good vision.

What the eye doctor will look for:
Again, catching refractive errors is one of the top things on your eye doctor’s list. They’ll also check for focusing abilities, peripheral and color vision, hand-eye coordination and tracking.

What the eye doctor will do:
The doctor will examine for eye diseases or other eye or vision conditions using eye chart tests and specialized equipment. He or she will ask about trouble reading, headaches, and other behaviors or symptoms that might indicate there’s a vision issue.

Ready to schedule your child’s first eye exam? We’ll do all we can to help your child feel safe and comfortable. Give us a call today.

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