The Right Age for Your Child to See an Optometrist

Routine vision exams are crucial to the development of optimal vision in children. This is because changes in a child’s eyes can rapidly lead to vision problems if they do not stay within normal limits.

Why Children’s Eye Exams Are So Important

Think about how fast a newborn child grows. It’s a wonderful, marvelous thing to watch a child grow taller and stronger. Growing leads to improvement in many things that we do. We can run faster, lift more, play a musical instrument better as our bodies grow. When we get big enough, we can ride a bike or even drive a car. In terms of the development of normal vision, there are special considerations as a child’s eyes grow.

If our nose grows, it doesn’t affect our sense of smell. Similarly, our taste buds don’t work any differently if our tongue grows in size. If our ears grow, it doesn’t affect our sense of hearing, except that having bigger ears might actually gather more sound. We have the same touch sensors on our bigger hands as a small child has on their hands. But the eyes are different.

The focus of the eyes is the result of a finely tuned match between the size of the eye and the shape of it’s focusing structures. A mis-match that results from the eyes being too small can cause far-sightedness, and a mis-match that results from the eyes being too big causes near-sightedness. Mis-matches that result from the focusing structures being the wrong shape can result in astigmatism. Any of these mis-matches can develop in a normal set of eyes as a child grows. When children have “growth spurts”, these periods of rapid growth increase the likelihood of mis-match.

Unfortunately, a small child will not know that they are having a vision problem if a focus related mis-match develops as they grow. Even if they did, children don’t always know how to vocalize what’s happening with their vision, especially if they are too young to understand what they’re experiencing. That’s where your optometrist comes in. Eye exams conducted by a licensed optometrist can help identify, address, and proactively treat common vision problems before they impact a child’s learning and development.

It can be difficult to discern whether or not your child is having vision problems. Unfortunately, noticing the close distance they sit from the television, or how close they hold their reading materials are late signs of a vision problem. Early detection requires specific testing tailored to a child’s age and ability to participate in a thorough eye exam. Early detection of eye conditions is key to preserving your child’s vision and optimizing their visual performance. This is why bringing your child to your optometrist routinely is crucial as your child continues growning through life’s milestones.

When to Bring Your Children Into the Optometrist

A common question parents ask is when their child should start seeing an optometrist for an eye
examination. The Canadian Association of Optometrists (CAO) recommends bringing your child for their first eye exam between the ages of 6-9 months, assuming there are no obvious concerns with the child’s eyes or vision. An infant can be seen by an optometrist earlier than 6 months if you notice any health issues such as constant tearing, an infection, an injury, your infant does not seem to look at objects as expected, or you sense that something is not “right” with your child’s eyes.

Infants and Toddlers and Preschoolers: Check Early!

You may wonder how an eye examination can be done for an infant who cannot speak or follow instructions, but your optometrist can actually obtain a lot of information about your infants eye health and vision with special equipment and testing procedures. Your optometrist can:

  • Assess how well your infant sees
  • Determine if your infant is farsighted, nearsighted or has astigmatism
  • Assess how well your infant’s eyes are working together
  • Determine if the extraocular muscles are working properly
  • Assess the overall health of your infants eyes

So don’t delay in getting your infants eyes checked early!

When your child is between the ages of two and five, it is strongly recommended that your child have at least one comprehensive eye examination. During this time period, your child’s eyes are continuing to grow and develop. For example, your child’s prescription (far-sighted, near-sighted or astigmatism) can change rapidly, the focusing system of the eyes is developing, the two eyes ability to coordinate with each other is developing, depth perception is developing, hand-eye coordination is developing, and the brain is continuing to form neural connections with each eye.

If this development does not happen optimally:

  • Your child may need eyeglasses to correct far-sightedness, near-sightedness or astigmatism
  • Your child may develop strabismus which is a condition where one eye turns in or out relative to the other eye
  • Your child may develop amblyopia or lazy eye
  • An eye health condition may develop

If a high or unequal prescription and/or strabismus are not corrected, then one eye may not develop to its full potential leading to a condition called amblyopia or more commonly referred to as “lazy eye.” A lazy eye will not be able to achieve 20/20 vision even with the correct eyeglasses. Correction or prevention of amblyopia is most effective at an early age, generally
before age 6-8. After this age, the deficiency may be permanent.

School-Age Children: Check Yearly!

School-age children should have a comprehensive eye examination annually until they turn 19 years old. As your child continues to grow, their eyes continue to develop and change. Far-
sightedness, near-sightedness and astigmatism will often change as the eye grows, meaning that eyeglasses may be needed or the prescription of current eyeglasses will need to change.

Also, problems with the eyes’ focusing system or eye coordination that were not present previously, can develop and need treatment. Furthermore, just like adults, children can develop
eye health issues such as swollen optic nerves, retinal tears or uveitis. Studies have shown that 70% of learning is related to vision, and as a result, problems with vision or eye coordination can have a significant impact on school performance.

Proper vision and eye coordination are imperative for success in sports and physical activities, as well. As previously discussed, children will not always know or be able to report problems with their eyes or vision. Your optometrist will assess all areas of your child’s vision and ocular system to rule out any developing problems, and manage those that do occur so that your child can obtain maximum visual performance.

Warning Signs of Vision Problems in Children

If you are worried about your child’s vision, try to observe any of the following activities, which may help in the event you visit an optometrist:

  • Rubbing eyes
  • Blinking
  • Sitting close to a TV/holding objects close
  • Squinting
  • Crossed eyes
  • Problems navigating darkness or at night

Common Eye Problems in Children

The most common childhood eye problems can easily be found during a comprehensive eye exam on the recommended schedule. Your optometrist can diagnose various vision issues in the earliest stages.

Myopia (Also know as near-sightedness)

Myopia occurs when the light entering the eye is focused in front of rather than on the retina. This will lead to blur in the distance. Children who are myopic will have trouble seeing the board
at school, will often move closer to the television, and squint to see objects in the distance.

Hyperopia (Also known as far-sightedness)

Hyperopia occurs when the light entering the eye is focused behind the retina rather than on the retina. Hyperopia can cause blur for close objects, but sometimes patient’s with hyperopia do not notice any blur. However, subtle symptoms like eye strain or fatigue when performing near tasks can occur with hyperopia. Often children do not notice any symptoms, but will avoid doing near tasks or have poor concentration for near tasks and do not understand why. This often affects school performance. Eyeglasses to correct hyperopia can help the child perform better at school, increase their comfort with near tasks, and increase their enjoyment of near tasks.

Strabismus (An eye that is turned in or out)

Strabismus is the condition where the 2 eyes do not align properly. This results in one eye turning in or out relative to the other eye. This condition can cause double vision, poor depth
perception, lack of coordination, and lead to amblyopia of the turned eye.

Amblyopia (Also known as a lazy eye)

Amblyopia is reduced vision in one eye that results from reduced neural development between the eye and the brain. It occurs when one eye is either more blurry than the other eye or turned in or out relative to the other eye for an extended period during the critical period of eye development. This developmental period is from birth to about age 6-8. Appropriate treatment in the form of eyeglasses, vision training, or surgery at an early age can help improve, resolve or prevent amblyopia from developing.

If your child develops any symptoms or behaviours as follows, your child should have an eye examination as soon as possible;

  • Squinting
  • Excessive blinking
  • Moving closer to see distant objects
  • Avoiding near tasks
  • Poor depth perception or coordination
  • Rubbing eyes
  • A turned eye
  • Poor school performance
  • Trouble seeing in dim lighting conditions
  • Complains of blurred vision

Finding The Best Optometrist in Calgary

When it comes to your child’s vision, no parent wants to take any risks. By implementing an eye care schedule and following up with your optometrist will give your child’s vision the best opportunity to be fully functional and healthy. Proactive treatment and early intervention can differentiate between full resolution and lifetime impairments.

At Doig Optometry, we pride ourselves on being able to help our patients with whatever their vision needs entail. Whether it be a comprehensive eye exam, progressive lens, or urgent eye care, we are always here to help. Call us at 403-333-3353 to book your appointment today!

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