It’s difficult to know if or when your child needs to see an eye care provider. But most experts agree that eye exams -- performed during regular well-child visits -- help protect your child’s vision and provide useful information about his or her eye health.
Children’s eye health begins in the newborn nursery and should continue throughout childhood, says Michael Repka, MD, professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “For many children, an evaluation by a pediatrician may be enough. But if a child has a family history of vision or eye problems or has symptoms, he or she may need to have an official eye exam,” he says.
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Even if there are no risk factors or family history of eye problems, children need their vision checked at 6 months, 3 years, and before first grade.
The Importance of Eye Exams
Most states require children to have an eye exam prior to beginning public school. Even if your pediatrician doesn’t see a problem, there may be other signs that your child needs a more thorough eye exam.
According to the Optometrists Network, the symptoms of possible vision problems in children include:
Poor school performance
Not wanting to go to school
Difficulty paying attention
Difficulty when reading and writing
Trouble seeing information on the chalk board
Blurry or double vision
Headaches or eye pain
Taking longer than normal to complete homework
According to Repka, including an eye exam as part of each annual physical may be all a child ever needs.
However, if your child has any symptoms of vision problems, or has family members who wear glasses, she may need to visit an eye care professional for examination.
There are three types of eye specialists who can provide children’s eye and vision care.
Ophthalmologist An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who provides eye care, such as complete eye exams, prescribing corrective lenses, diagnosing and treating eye diseases, and performing eye surgery.
Optometrist An optometrist is a health care professional who can provide complete eye exams, prescribe corrective lenses, diagnose common eye disorders, and treat selected eye diseases. Optometrists do not treat more complex eye problems or perform surgery.
Optician An optician assembles, fits, sells, and fills prescriptions for eyeglasses.
These health care providers can be found in most commercial and residential areas. Some may be located in shopping malls and even larger commercial chains.