Your Child's Eye Exam: What to Expect

Experts have different opinions on vision screening and eye exams for children. Talk to your doctor to see what’s right for you.

How Do I Prepare My Child?

If she’s old enough to understand what’s going on, sit down with her and explain what will happen during your doctor visit. Make sure she knows the doctor will ask her to look at and identify objects. These could be pictures, letters, or shapes of light on the wall. Explain that the doctor may put drops in her eyes, but it won’t hurt. They might sting, but only for a few seconds. Be honest with your child and work with your doctor to reassure her.

What Tests Will the Doctor Do?

1 year and younger: The doctor will check:

  • For nearsightedness: You might hear it called myopia. It means your child can see OK up close but objects far away are blurry.
  • For farsightedness: It’s also called hyperopia. It means she can see OK far away, but things up close are blurry.
  • For astigmatism: That's when her eye isn’t shaped the way it should be, so everything looks blurry to some degree.
  • For amblyopia: One eye is weaker than the other.
  • How the eyes move
  • To make sure the eyes are lined up right
  • How the eyes react to changes in light and darkness

If your pediatrician or family doctor suspects an eye problem, he’ll refer you to a pediatric eye doctor. Early diagnosis of childhood eye disease is crucial to effective treatment.

Ages 3-5: The eye doctor will do a physical exam of her eyes and also do vision screenings using eye chart tests, pictures, letters, or the "tumbling E game." This game measures how well your child sees the form and detail of objects. (Your doctor will call this visual acuity.)

The game, also called the Random E's Visual Acuity Test, is a good option for kids who can’t read yet. The child is asked to identify the direction that the letter "E" opens to by holding out three or four fingers to mimic the letter "E." You can practice this test at home before your appointment.

If your child is a bit older, she may be asked to identify pictures such as a plane, a house, a duck, or a hand. Correcting poor visual acuity is very important in a child's sight development.

Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is the loss of one eye's ability to see details. Amblyopia is reversible when detected early. Treatment involves patching the better-seeing eye or blurring its vision using atropine drops. Amblyopia is the most common cause of vision problems in children.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brian S. Boxer Wachler, MD on December 6, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

Vision Council of America: "Infants, Preschool, School Age."

All About Vision: "Your Infant's Visual Development."

National Eye Institute: "Finding an Eye Care Professional."

Prevent Blindness America: "Taking Your Child to the Eye Doctor."

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Eye Examination and Vision Screening in Infants, Children, and Young Adults."

American Optometric Association: “Glossary of Common Eye & Vision Conditions.”

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