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Annual Eye Exams for Children: As Important as Visits to Pediatricians

When it comes to keeping children healthy and ensuring proper childhood development, annual visits to pediatricians are important. But what most parents don’t realize is that annual eye exams are equally as important. Healthy vision is essential to a child’s ability to learn and achieve their academic potential, as well as to play sports and other activities.

When is the First Eye Exam Needed?

Surprised to know that a six-month old should have an eye exam? That’s right. Because early exams are not just about vision.

During infancy, a child’s vision is constantly changing. In the earliest months of their lives, babies can only focus on close-up objects, and they see only high contrast colors, such as black, white, and red. At six months of age, however, visual acuity sharpens. It is at this point that babies should have their vision examined by an eye doctor to ensure that their eyes are developing normally, perform as a team, and are working together. If not, one or both eyes may be affected and that could lead to a lifetime of poor vision.

Other exams should be in the 3 to 4-year-old range because the eyes have basically done their growing and developing by then. And a pre-kindergarten exam is a must (don’t assume school-offered vision screenings are enough). After that, eye exams should become an annual ritual, just like annual check-ups at the pediatrician’s office. It’s the best way for the eye doctor to keep tabs on young eyes that can change fast.

What Can Be Detected in an Eye Exam?

Early treatment can stop bigger problems down the road and detect vision issues that could impair eyesight for life.

Children’s eye exams can identify nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism, conditions that can be easily remedied with prescription glasses. An eye doctor can spot a condition commonly known as “lazy eye” (the medical term is amblyopia) very early in a child’s life. Treatment includes a corrective eye patch on the normal eye so it forces the weaker eye to work harder and improve. The younger the child, the better to avoid a grade-school eye patch.

Like any trip to a doctor, kids might be scared to see an eye doctor. But many optometrists, like Carol Marusich, OD, who practices in Eugene, Oregon, are skilled at working with children. They can actually make eye exams fun for kids.

“I think the biggest compliment I’ve ever received came from a 3-year-old after her eye exam,” Dr. Marusich recalls. "After I'd finished testing this little girl’s eyes and was about to say goodbye, she looked up and asked me, ‘OK, when are you gonna start my test?"

Don’t just assume all is well unless you see your child squinting or complaining about his or her eyes. Make yearly trips to the eye doctor as important for your family as annual visits to pediatricians. You can easily find a VSP network eye doctor in your area who specializes in working with children.