Getting your child’s eyes checked regularly is essential for spotting issues that are treatable when caught early. Good vision is really important to children as so much of what they learn is taken in through their eyes, and their vision helps them find out about the world around them. A child's first visit to a qualified optometrist is very important.
You'll find most preschool children have regular vision screening as part of their routine developmental checks. These early checks are invaluable, but aren't as thorough as a full eye examination by a qualified optometrist.
When should a child have their first eye exam?
When a child is born, the paediatrician will check his or her vision before they leave the hospital to go home, but it's very uncommon for newborns to have any problems with their vision. A newborn baby’s eye is only about 75% of the size of an adult eye and continues to develop up until the age of 8.
Children can be tested at any time but it is recommended that an optometrist sees them by the age of 3. It’s also recommended that children have regular check-ups after that, at least once every two years. According to research from the Association of Optometrists, 1 in 5 children have an undetected eye problem - and this can be very damaging to a child’s educational development so it’s important to get regular eye checks.
Although a lot of schools do provide eye tests, it’s important to remember that this is not a full eye test. Their distance vision is normally checked but this will not detect all levels of long-sight. Short sight and large squints may be detected, but the school checks are not usually carried out by an eyecare professional.
What are the signs of children’s vision problems?
Children rarely complain about their sight, but there are some tell-tale signs that there might be a problem through their behaviour:
- Sitting too close to the TV
- Frequent eye rubbing
- Sensitivity to light
- Closing one eye to watch TV or read a book
- Squinting or tilting their head to try and see things better
- Complaining of headaches or tired eyes
- Problems with hand-eye co-ordination
- Being unusually clumsy
What happens at a child’s eye test?
It's a common misconception that children's eyes cannot accurately be checked until they can read, but in fact, several special tests can be carried out at a very early age. As the child develops and communication skills improve, more detailed tests are also possible. Often used are specially designed charts that allow children to recognise shapes or pictures, or even to match letters, rather than the traditional charts that you may be familiar with. This means that we can test children’s eyes even if they are unable to read. A child’s eye test is slightly different to a normal sight test but still provides an in depth assessment of their eye health and vision.
Eye examinations are available without charge for all children up to the age of 16, and 18 if they are still in full time education.