August 14, 2019/Eye Care

When Should Your Child Have a First Eye Exam?

Caring for eyes at an early age

Child having eye exam at optomentrist office

You want to get your young children off to a good start in every way — and that includes their eye health. But when is the right time to start having your child’s eyes checked? Babies and toddlers can’t read an eye chart, after all. It’s best to start early.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

It’s important not to delay eye exams for young infants and children because some early eye problems can affect vision for life. Finding a problem early can keep a minor issue from becoming something major (and harder to treat).

Pediatric ophthalmologist Elias Traboulsi, MD, MEd, emphasizes that eye exams aren’t merely a way to know whether your child needs glasses. Like regular exams with a pediatrician, eye exams are about preventive care.

When do children need eye exams?

Dr. Traboulsi recommends a comprehensive eye exam by an eye care professional if possible by age 1, to be repeated before kindergarten in children without any evident eye problems. Pediatricians do perform limited eye examinations right after birth and in the first few years of life. These can detect a variety of abnormalities in the light reflex from the pupil and in the external aspects of the eye and the ocular alignment.

These exams become much more important in children who:

  • Have a sibling or a parent with a major eye problem, such as crossed or turned eye(s) (strabismus) or lazy eye (amblyopia).
  • Have an eye problem detected by a pediatrician.
  • Are suspected by parents of having an eye issue.

“Even if there are no obvious symptoms, your child may still have a problem with his vision,” he says.

Early exams may head off serious problems

Undiagnosed conditions or abnormalities can lead to vision loss. But it’s possible to reverse some problems if they’re caught early, Dr. Traboulsi says.

A classic example is lazy eye. Kids with this condition have one eye that is weaker than the other.

One of the most common vision problems in children, lazy eye typically responds well to treatment. This may include an eye patch, eye drops or eyeglasses.

Another example is crossed eyes, which involves one or both eyes turning inward or outward. This can require special eyewear or an eye patch.

So how do you know there’s a problem or your child needs to see a doctor?

Here are four key tips that will help you make sure your child has the best eye care from the start.

1. Don’t wait for school

If you have questions about your young child’s vision, don’t hesitate to schedule an eye exam.

Most children have their vision tested before they start elementary school. But Dr. Traboulsi says it’s ideal to have your child’s eyes tested before they start kindergarten or preschool.

2. Consider your family history

“While it’s ideal for all kids to have their eyes tested, it’s even more important if a child’s brothers or sisters have vision problems,” says Dr. Traboulsi.

As with many other health-related conditions, your child is more likely to have vision problems if they run in your family. So it’s best to start monitoring it early on.

Advertisement

3. See an eye specialist

As you know, your pediatrician has specialized training for treating children. By the same token, a pediatric ophthalmologist specializes in detecting and treating children’s eye problems.

With kid-friendly tools and testing, they can pinpoint problems — even if your child hasn’t learned how to talk or doesn’t yet know the alphabet.

4. Go with your gut

Dr. Traboulsi says it’s very important for parents to trust their instincts. After all, you know your child best.

In fact, parents are often the first ones to notice signs of trouble. “If a mom says something is wrong with her child’s eyes or vision and I don’t find anything in the initial exam, I always go back and test again,” he says.

Your doctor may not find a problem at first. But if you still have concerns, keep working to pinpoint the problem. Discuss the signs you’re seeing with your child’s doctor or get a second opinion, if necessary, Dr. Traboulsi advises.

Following these tips will help you protect your child’s vision and promote healthy eyesight for life.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Eye doctor holding glasses and a prescription
March 20, 2024/Eye Care
Got a New Eye Prescription? Here’s What It Means

Your eye prescription reveals a lot about your eye health, including how they’re shaped, how well you see and what your new glasses can do for your sight

kid getting an eye exam
July 20, 2022/Children's Health
Do Kids Need Back-to-School Eye Exams?

Plan on an annual vision screening, but a full exam may not be necessary

man using cheater eyeglasses to read
February 6, 2022/Eye Care
Non-Prescription ‘Cheaters’ vs. Prescription Glasses

Our vision and eye experts have the clear answer

eyes are a window to health
July 5, 2020/Eye Care
Your Eyes: A Window to Your Health

Your eyes can reveal many clues about underlying health issues

Reader glasses placed on a book
May 21, 2020/Eye Care
Are Vision Changes After 40 Normal?

And six warning signs for when they're not

eye chart seen through glasses
April 19, 2020/Eye Care
Optometrist or Ophthalmologist: Which Is Best for Your Eye Care?

Types of eye doctors and what they do

Adult receiving eye drops from a healthcare provider
May 10, 2024/Eye Care
When Is It Too Late To Treat Lazy Eye?

While it’s best to fix amblyopia during childhood, it can also be addressed as an adult

Person vacuuming around living room
April 17, 2024/Eye Care
5 Tips for Coping With Geographic Atrophy

Preserving your social life and protecting your mental health are key to living well with vision loss

Trending Topics

Person in yellow tshirt and blue jeans relaxing on green couch in living room reading texts on their phone.
Here’s How Many Calories You Naturally Burn in a Day

Your metabolism may torch 1,300 to 2,000 calories daily with no activity

woman snacking on raisins and nuts
52 Foods High In Iron

Pump up your iron intake with foods like tuna, tofu and turkey

Ad