Are you clear about when your child should have their first eye test?
It’s a question that many parents worry about.
So let me share something important with you.
Your child should have their first thorough eye exam with a paediatric optometrist at 6 months old, another at age 3, and a check-up before they start school, around 5 or 6 years old.
I’m Damon Ezekiel, principal optometrist and owner of Ezekiel Eyes. Alongside me in our optometry team is Rhiannon Richer who graduated with her Masters Degree from the Queensland University of Technology. Since joining us in Perth, Rhiannon’s been instrumental in providing top-tier eye care, driven by a mission to deliver the best to each patient. She’s especially popular with parents when they bring their little ones in to see us for paediatric eye care.
One common myth we encounter is the belief that kids only need an eye exam if there’s a noticeable problem. But that’s not the case.
Consider this. We once had a young patient who showed no obvious signs of vision trouble, yet a routine exam revealed a slight issue with focussing. Thanks to early detection and intervention, we managed to correct the problem swiftly, averting potential learning and developmental delays.
As a parent myself, I know the importance of caring for your child’s early vision. Eye problems can impact your child’s ability to learn and develop. So, regular eye exams are key, not just for clear vision, but for overall eye health and early detection of any concerns.
Keen to know more about the benefits of early and regular eye check-ups for kids?
Keep reading, or better yet, give us a call on (08) 9386 3620 to book an appointment with us at Ezekiel Eyes.
Let’s ensure your child’s vision is on the right track.
The Importance of Early Eye Exams
As an experienced paediatric optometrist, I’ve seen firsthand how these early assessments play a pivotal role in a child’s learning and development.
Catching Issues Early: One of the key benefits of early eye exams is the ability to identify and address vision problems before they become significant hurdles. Often, children themselves might not realize or be able to communicate their visual difficulties. Parents and guardians might not notice the subtle signs either. Regular eye checks help in spotting issues like lazy eye (amblyopia), crossed eyes (strabismus), or refractive errors (such as myopia or hyperopia) early on, allowing for timely and often more effective treatment.
Vision Health and Childhood Learning: The connection between vision health and learning is profound, especially in young children. Vision problems can hinder a child’s ability to read, write, and even participate in sports or other activities. This can lead to challenges in school, impacting not just academic performance but also social interactions and self-esteem. Early eye exams ensure that any vision-related learning barriers are identified and addressed, paving the way for a smoother educational journey.
At Ezekiel Eyes, we’re committed to the early detection and management of vision problems in children. Our pediatric eye examinations are thorough and child-friendly, ensuring your little ones receive the best possible care. Remember, safeguarding your child’s vision is an investment in their future, and it starts with regular eye exams.
Expected Milestones for Vision Development in Infants and Toddlers
The development of a child’s vision begins early, even before they’re born. The basic parts of the eye, like the cornea, lens, and pupils, start forming while the baby is still in the womb. By 27 weeks, a baby can blink at bright lights, and at 30 weeks, their pupils adjust to control the amount of light entering the eye.
A child’s vision improves rapidly in the first three months, reaching adult levels by age 6. Even very young babies like watching faces and contrasting patterns, especially within 30cm.
Good vision is essential for a child’s overall development, including motor skills and social interaction.
|Observable Visual Development
|Blinks at bright light, turns towards soft light, briefly focuses on faces/objects close by.
|1 – 2
|Shows interest in faces, smiles in response, likes black and white contrasts, follows faces/objects close by.
|3 – 4
|Watches own hands, follows faces and objects, attracted to human face, begins to coordinate hands and eyes.
|5 – 9
|Notices small objects, avoids obstacles when crawling, begins to understand size and distance, coordinates hands and eyes better.
|12 – 18
|Recognizes familiar people, shifts vision between near and far, follows moving objects, enjoys simple picture books.
|24 – 30
|Matches pictures, recognizes self and others in photos.
|40 – 48
|Matches letters and shapes, near-adult visual acuity.
What Does a Paediatric Optometrist Check at Different Ages?
At 6 Months
At this early stage, the focus is on the early detection of any vision problems and making sure the baby’s eyes are developing as they should.
- Fixation and Following Test: Here, we check if the baby can focus on and track a moving object.
- Pupil Response Test: We observe how the pupils react to light, which tells us a lot about the neurological health of the eyes.
- Preferential Looking Test: This involves using cards with stripes to gauge the baby’s visual attention and acuity, without needing them to speak or indicate choices.
Optometrist’s Goals: Our main aim at this stage is to ensure the baby’s eyes are developing on track. We look out for early signs of conditions like crossed eyes or lazy eye, as well as any congenital eye issues.
At 3 Years
As the child grows, the focus shifts to keeping an eye on how their vision is developing and spotting any issues that start to emerge.
- LEA Symbols or Picture Chart: This test uses simple pictures or symbols to measure visual sharpness in kids who aren’t yet talking fluently.
- Cover-Uncover Test: This helps spot issues with eye alignment or movement, like strabismus.
- Colour Vision Test: Even at this young age, it’s useful to identify colour vision deficiencies, as this can affect learning.
Optometrist’s Goals: We aim to catch conditions like amblyopia or refractive errors early. These can really affect a child’s ability to learn and interact with others. Getting on top of these early means we can manage them more effectively.
Just Before Starting School
This is a critical time to make sure the child’s eyes are up to the challenge of school.
- Snellen Chart or Equivalent: Now that the child can recognize letters or numbers, we can use more standard tests to check their vision sharpness.
- Binocular Vision Tests: It’s key to see how well the eyes work together – crucial for reading and writing tasks.
- Depth Perception Test: Understanding how well the child perceives depth helps us gauge their physical coordination.
Optometrist’s Goals: Our goal is to ensure the child’s vision is ready for school – things like reading from a distance and close-up work. If there are any late-blooming vision issues or a need for an updated glasses prescription, this is the time to catch and address them.
To learn more about how a paediatric optometrist checks a child’s eyes, watch the following video from Dr. Vicky Fisher.
Signs Your Child May Need an Immediate Eye Exam
As paediatric optometrists, we often advise parents on what signs to look out for that might indicate their child needs an eye exam sooner rather than later.
There are several symptoms you can easily spot. These include:
- Persistent watery eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- White or yellow material in the pupil
- Redness that doesn’t go away
- Pus or crust in the eyes
- Crossed or wandering eyes
- Drooping or bulging eyes or eyelids
Apart from physical signs, certain behaviors can also hint at potential vision problems:
- Difficulty in Reading: If your child avoids reading or shows discomfort while reading, it could be due to vision issues.
- Poor Attention Span: Sometimes, what seems like a lack of attention, especially in school, might actually be a struggle to see properly.
- Frequent Eye Rubbing: Eye rubbing in children, when they are not sleepy, can indicate issues like eye strain, allergies, dry eyes, infections, or even be a habitual response to stress.
- Frequent head tilting or head turning: In children this may indicate problems with binocular vision or refractive errors, as they attempt to compensate for blurred or double vision.
If you notice any of these symptoms or behaviors in your child, it’s a good idea to schedule an eye exam. Early detection and treatment can make a significant difference in your child’s vision health and overall well-being.
Choosing the Right Eye Care Professional
Selecting the right eye care professional is crucial for ensuring your child receives the best possible care. Understanding the roles of different specialists can help you make an informed decision.
Optometrist vs Ophthalmologist
Optometrists, like us at Ezekiel Eyes, are primary health care specialists trained to examine the eyes to detect defects in vision, signs of injury, ocular diseases, or abnormality and problems with general health. We prescribe glasses, contact lenses, and provide treatments for certain eye conditions.
Ophthalmologists, on the other hand, are medical doctors who specialize in eye and vision care. They’re trained to perform eye exams, diagnose and treat diseases, prescribe medications, and perform eye surgery. They also write prescriptions for eyeglasses and contact lenses.
In deciding whether to consult an paediatric optometrist or an ophthalmologist, consider the nature of your child’s eye care needs. For routine eye exams, vision testing, and prescription eyewear, an optometrist is your go-to. For more complex eye diseases or surgery, an ophthalmologist is required.
Role of Orthoptists
Orthoptists play a vital role in children’s vision care, specializing in diagnosing and treating disorders of eye movements and associated vision problems. They often work closely with paediatric optometrists and ophthalmologists, particularly in managing conditions like strabismus (crossed eyes) and amblyopia (lazy eye). Orthoptists are skilled in conducting detailed assessments of eye function, particularly in children, and play a key role in the collaborative care of pediatric patients.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do Australian schools conduct vision screening?
The National Framework for Vision Screening recommends that all Australian children aged 3.5 -5 years receive comprehensive vision screening and guides the various programs implemented across the country, though some differences exist between states/territories regarding ages and tests conducted.
Can kids grow out of bad vision?
Typically, many children eventually won’t require glasses as they get older. Early vision issues often arise from developmental changes in the eye’s shape, but as children mature, their eye shape tends to stabilize. How quickly a child might move beyond needing glasses depends on their unique growth process and the seriousness of their vision condition.
What if my child is nervous about eye exams?
Kids can sometimes get nervous in new or unfamiliar settings. To help calm your child’s worries, assure them that you’ll be by their side throughout the eye exam. Additionally, you can reassure them by explaining that the eye doctor is a kind and helpful professional who’s there to assist them.
What is the youngest age to get glasses?
It’s possible for children to need glasses from just a few months old. Experts in children’s vision often find that nearsightedness or farsightedness develops mainly between the ages of 6 and 12. Farsightedness can be identified earlier, occasionally during infancy. Glasses can be prescribed even for infants, should they require assistance for better vision.
How can I keep my toddler’s eyes healthy?
Good eye health is vital for a child’s learning, as most classroom education is visual. Regular eye exams, proper prescription glasses if needed, and a nutritious diet are essential. Ensure your child spends time outdoors, wears UV-protective sunglasses, and uses appropriate eye protection during sports. Emphasize the importance of regular breaks from screens, maintaining eye hygiene, and getting adequate rest. Regular eye exams are crucial to catch any issues early and keep your child’s vision sharp. Modeling these eye care practices yourself can help instill good habits in your children.
From a young age, regular check-ups with a paediatric optometrist play a crucial role in ensuring your child’s visual system develops correctly, helping them to learn and interact effectively with their world. It’s vital to recognize signs of vision problems early – things like squinting, eye rubbing, or difficulty in reading. Ignoring these signs can lead to long-term consequences for your child’s learning and development.
At Ezekiel Eyes, we’re dedicated to safeguarding your child’s vision. Our team, including myself, Damon Ezekiel, and my colleague Rhiannon Richer, are here to provide comprehensive and caring eye exams. We understand the intricacies of paediatric vision and are equipped to handle all your child’s eye care needs. And we will do everything we can to make your child’s visit to the optometrist, a fun and enjoyable occasion!
Don’t wait for signs of vision problems to become apparent. Be proactive about your child’s eye health. To schedule an eye exam, give us a call on (08) 9386 3620 or use the convenient “Book an Appointment” button on our website. Let’s work together to ensure your child’s vision is on the right track for a bright and healthy future.
In addition to owning and managing Ezekiel Eyes, Damon is a contact lens consultant to various research organisations. He regularly lectures and conducts workshops in contact lens practice throughout Australia, Asia and the United States. Damon graduated from the University of NSW with a Bachelor of Optometry in 1989. He is now married with two children and enjoys running, hockey, swimming, piano, travelling and trekking.
Damon’s professional associations include:
President of the International Society of Contact Lens Specialists
Practising Fellow of the Scleral Lens Education Society
Fellow of the Cornea & Contact Lens Society of Australia
Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry
Member of Optometry Australia
Member of the Orthokeratology Society of Australia
Member of Alcon Australia advisory panel