Dr. Ballantyne Answers Your Questions About Children’s Eye Care
1) From what age should a parent be bringing in their children for an eye exam?
We recommend that children get their first eye exam between the ages of 6 months to 12 months, then at age 3 or 4, then when they start kindergarten they should begin yearly eye exams.
2) Why is it important to bring a child from such a young age?
An exam within the first year of life is very important to objectively test that a child’s visual system is developing as anticipated. Any prescription that may delay the development of the visual system can be corrected to prevent future problems. Another exam prior to starting school is very important to detect any vision issues to make learning as easy as possible!
3) What is the difference in terms of the examination process when you are checking the eyes of young children?
For exams on infants, rather than using subjective methods, where the patient answers a series of questions, we use objective methods where we use specific skills to assess the eyes and vision with limited cooperation. From objective testing, we are able to determine whether the eyes are healthy, appropriately aligned and check for any uncorrected refractive error.
4) Are there any signs that parents should be looking out for that would point them to making an appointment with their optometrist?
A baby’s eyes should be aligned by 6 months of age, any eye turn after that mark should be assessed by an eye care professional as it may indicate large, uncorrected, prescription or underlying pathology preventing the eyes from aligning normally. Parents should watch for children that do not seem to respond to facial expressions or gestures from across the room. Children with poor vision may also have poor coordination, bump into things more than normal, or have a difficult time socializing with peers their age. Holding things very close or resistance to having one eye covered may also indicate a problem with vision.
5) Do you find that some parents can express hesitancy in bringing in young children? What causes that hesitation?
Though an eye exam may seem scary for such a small child, it is generally a very positive and fun experience. It is normal to worry when taking your child to any doctor, but the positive benefits of ensuring your child’s visual system is on track far outweigh concerns.
6) How does school play a role in this?
Schools typically offer screening that may test a child’s visual acuity or use an instrument called an auto-refractor to preliminarily test for a prescription. School screenings are very important and may detect some eye problems, they are not comprehensive and should not be considered an eye exam.
7) Do you have issues with children that are shy or intimidated in the office, and how do you work with that?
We take as much time as necessary to ensure that the child feels comfortable and confident during the examination process. This may occasionally require more than one visit to help build a rapport and collect all the data necessary to ensure everything is on track. We have specialized equipment and training to assist in examining children to make it a fun event rather than a scary one!
8) Can you recall any particular story of a child that came into your office, in which you were able to detect an issue early on and therefore make a difference in that child’s eye health?
There have been many occasions that we have been reminded of the importance of early exams. One such example was a 3-year-old girl seen recently. She had been bumping into objects, making poor eye contact and having difficulty interacting with peers at daycare. Through a routine exam, it was discovered that she was very nearsighted and could not see clearly more than about 16 inches from her face. With proper diagnosis and visual correction her demeanor, social interactions and coordination improved almost immediately!
9) Any further comments specific to pediatric care that parents should be aware of?
Even if your child passes a vision screening at school, that does not necessarily mean that all is well in the eye department. The child may be too farsighted to focus on books or computer work for sustained periods of time, or they may have eye teaming issues that hinder their performance at school or sports. Be sure to have your child’s eyes examined each year, and let your eye doctor know about any concerns you may have about your child’s performance.