Does my child need an eye exam? How often should children have their eyes examined? How is it possible to tell if they even need glasses? Parents commonly ask me these types of questions at the end of their own exams. The recommended time frame is starting at 6 months, then age 3, 5, and annually until age 18. These numbers can change at the discretion of your eye doctor. Also, if you as parents notice anything unusual happening with your children’s eyes, you should make an appointment immediately. It is usually easier to address and alleviate any permanent visual problems the sooner we see them.
How can we possibly examine someone who won’t cooperate during the exam? We have many different techniques we use, some of which are also used on adults who may be mentally or physically handicapped.
We start by checking visual acuity. Depending on age or skill set, we may use letters, pictures, shapes, or even eye tracking. Color vision is tested by having children either tell us the number they see on the page in a book or by tracing it. Stereo (or depth perception) is measuring using a special type of 3D glasses. They will notice animals or objects floating off the page. Eye muscles are evaluated to make sure there isn’t a weak one which could cause double vision, or even the development of amblyopia, otherwise known as “lazy eye”. Usually, this will involve following a light (which children love to do!). Then, we’re onto checking pupils. This tells us if there is any interruption in their visual system, as well as documenting their size for comparison in future visits. Finally, to finish up the entrance testing, we will check their peripheral vision.
After this is all completed, we can begin to determine whether your child needs glasses. Some children will come in wanting to get glasses, others will do everything they can to avoid them. We will use their responses during the exam to help us decide, but to be honest, we can tell what they need even without them. We use what is called a retinoscope to shine a light in their eyes and watch the reflex it makes. This enables us to find if they have a refractive error (nearsightedness, farsightedness).
Almost every child will need to have eye drops during the exam. They are usually not excited about this but we administer as painless and quickly as possible. This helps to check their accommodation, or ability to focus. Most young children are farsighted, some more than others. They are able to see things clearly by focusing really hard. After being in school all day, all that focusing can cause headaches. The eye drops we use inhibits their ability to focus, and thus allows us to recheck their prescription. This also improves the accuracy of the prescription. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to see very well up close for a whole day!
Now that their eyes are also dilated, we can evaluate the health of the structures in the front and back of their eyes. We check for any ocular diseases that may or may not have signs or be symptomatic to the patient.
Depending on cooperation and results, it will usually take about an hour. Most kids do very well with their exams and are excited to come back again next year!
Contact us to schedule a kids eye exam or if you have any questions.