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Baby Steps: Make Sure Some of Them Are to the Eye Doctor

Most parents don’t seem to know it. Eye care experts say children should have their first eye exam when they’re only 6 months old. But never mind six months. One study shows a whopping 85% of America’s pre-schoolers haven’t received one by age five.

An unlikely scenario it may seem, but an eye exam on an infant is actually pretty easy. And for eye doctors like Nick Brattis, OD, who are experienced at the special techniques, it’s as easy as child’s play.

“I’ve been examining children’s eyes for more than 27 years,” says the veteran optometrist from Casper, Wyoming, “and I’ve seen many times where diagnosing and treating an eye disorder early in life meant a positive outcome for the child.”

One such situation was some twenty years back. Dr. Brattis had a 2-year-old patient with a significant case of ‘lazy eye’ (reduced control focusing, or amblyopia). He recalls, “I prescribed some aggressive therapy. He wore a patch over one eye to make the ‘lazy eye’ stronger. He and his family did a very good job on the therapy, and guess what? That little guy is now a young man with 20/25 vision.”

Dr. Brattis echoes other vision experts with a suggested timeline for early childhood eye exams:

  • At 6 months. It’s best to find a specialist in treating young children. This exam mostly checks basic working order and structure of the eyes – to make sure they’re developing properly. The doctor will also check that the eyes are working well together. And, that they’re free of rare but serious problems — such as cataracts and tumors — that could hinder vision.
  • Between 2 and 3 years. The doctor will check for signs of developmental eye problems, like  “lazy eye,” crossed eyes (strabismus), nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. If the doctor finds a problem, helpful therapy can usually start right away. This is important, so kids may avoid wearing corrective items, such as an eye patch, when they go to school.
  • Pre-K. Just before kindergarten, the doctor will check for visual acuity and prescribe glasses if needed.

Besides calendar-prescribed exams, there are other times you should get to the eye doctor quickly with your little one in tow. So says Wendy Marsh-Tootle, OD, of the University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Infants should visit an eye doctor if:

  • After 3 months of age, they don’t focus well on objects.
  • Their eyes are not straight.
  • They have a droopy eyelid.
  • There is a family history of serious eye problems.
  • Their eyes water excessively.

Children in general should have an eye exam if:

  • There is red eye, with or without discharge.
  • They squint their eyes to read or see small things.
  • They complain of blurry distant vision.
  • They blink excessively.
  • They have headaches or double vision.

If your child is six months old or experiencing any symptoms mentioned above, find an eye doctor who provides specialty eye exams for infants.