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What to Expect at a Child’s First Eye Exam

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A young boy undergoing an eye exam.

As a parent, you may see a lot of firsts—first smile, first word, and even a first eye exam. Being prepared can help make those first experiences even more exciting.

While a first exam can be a new experience for children and their parents, in general, you can expect your child’s first pediatric eye exam to be a gentle assessment of their eyes and vision with tests that help check their overall health and eye development. 

While it might not be as celebrated as other initial milestones, a child’s first eye exam can be crucial for monitoring their sight and detecting and treating vision problems early. 

What Is an Eye Exam?

An eye exam is a comprehensive assessment of the eyes performed by your eye doctor to determine if you or your child have any vision problems or eye diseases. During an eye exam, your eye doctor will perform several tests to check visual acuity, colour vision, the coordination and strength of your eye muscles, and your binocular vision

These exams go beyond vision screenings that involve reading letters on a chart. They’re about getting a full picture of your eye health, vision, and any problems that might need to be addressed. 

Children’s Eye Exams

Children’s eye exams can be different from adult exams because children’s eyes can develop rapidly. Pediatric eye exams often include approaches that help assess the unique needs of kids’ developing eyes and check for common childhood eye problems. 

What Should You Expect for Your Child’s First Eye Exam?

The prospect of a first eye exam may raise questions and concerns for parents and kids. When we provide eye exams for kids, our goal is to answer all your questions and provide an experience that’s child-friendly, engaging, and informative. 

A Welcoming Environment

A child’s first eye exam is a significant event, and that’s why the goal at our office is to create an environment that is friendly and fosters a positive attitude towards eye care from an early age.

Family Medical History Review

A first eye exam will generally begin with questions about your family’s medical history, your family’s history of eye diseases, and any concerns you may have about your child’s vision. 

Gentle Tests

During the primary part of the exam, your optometrist will evaluate your child’s eye health and vision using various tests and techniques that are designed to be gentle and safe. The tests may include measuring your child’s vision for refractive errors like myopia and checking eye-muscle coordination to see how well your child’s eyes work together. 

How Often Should Your Child See an Eye Doctor?

The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends the following frequency for children’s eye exams:

  • Infancy: An infant’s first eye exam should be between 6 and 9 months of age. This initial examination assesses basic eye health and development. 
  • Preschool: Between 2 and 5 years, children should have 1 eye exam. This assessment helps us identify and address any vision issues affecting early development and learning before school starts.
  • School-aged children: From age 6 until 19, children should have an eye exam every 12 months. These annual exams serve as a baseline for their school years, helping catch any emerging issues that might impact their academic performance.

Visual Milestones in Children

Visual development between 6 and 9 months can include:

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Looking at distant objects more often
  • Eye focusing
  • Eye tracking
  • Using depth perception to find, recognize, and move towards objects
  • Imitation of social gestures

During this stage, there are several signs of challenges with eye health you can look for, including:

  • Watery eyes
  • Frequent eye rubbing
  • Frequent infections
  • Frequent blinking
  • Reacting strongly to light
  • Eyes turning in and out or up and down
  • Poor hand-eye coordination
A boy with strabismus causing his right eye to point inward while his left eye points forward.

What Eye Conditions Can a Children’s Eye Exam Detect?

Children’s eye exams are instrumental for identifying various conditions that, if left untreated, can impact kids’ learning, development, and overall well-being. 

Some of the conditions these exams can detect include:

  • Amblyopia (lazy eye): This occurs when one eye is significantly weaker than the other, leading to poor vision. Detecting and addressing amblyopia early on can increase the likelihood of successful treatment, often involving eye patches or corrective lenses.
  • Strabismus (crossed eye): This is a condition where the eyes do not align properly or appear slightly crossed. An eye exam can reveal this misalignment, and early intervention, which may include eyeglasses, eye exercises, or other treatments, can prevent long-term vision issues.
  • Nystagmus: Nystagmus is a vision condition in which the eyes jump or have uncontrolled movements. It may require additional monitoring to determine the cause of your child’s symptoms and support your child’s eye development. 
  • Other eye health concerns: Beyond vision correction, eye exams also help assess the overall health of your child’s eyes. An eye exam can detect other conditions, too, such as conjunctivitis, allergies, or even more serious issues like congenital cataracts

Let’s Support Your Child’s Eyes Together

Your child’s first eye exam marks an essential milestone in their journey towards proper eye development and vision. Scheduling regular eye exams for your child early on helps us understand and assess their unique needs.Book an eye exam with Milton Eye and Vision Care to start or continue your child’s eye care journey.

Written by Dr. Ronald Nicholas Strohan

Dr. Strohan has been an integrative optometrist in the Milton, Ontario area for over 40 years and has always stayed true to his philosophy of focusing on excellent patient eye care. He has studied behavioural optometry for more than 4 decades and is passionate about providing clear vision for patients of all ages. He takes pride in offering the latest eye care products and advancements in vision therapy.
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