What to expect at your child’s first optometry appointment
A visit to the eye doctor may be scary or exciting (or both!) depending on your child, and it helps to know what to expect. It’s recommended that all children have a comprehensive eye exam by two years old, although even six months is not too young if you have any concerns about your child’s vision. It helps to come prepared with any questions or concerns you may have and schedule your child or baby’s appointment at a time when they are alert and awake. (If possible try to avoid naptime or mealtime.) Early eye exams are designed to catch any vision problems or other eye issues as early as possible. When detected early, these problems are much easier to treat. Exactly what to expect at each appointment will depend on the age of your child.
Babies’ eyes rapidly develop throughout their first year of life. If you schedule an eye exam for your infant, your optometrist will likely assess your baby’s reaction to light and see how well they can track a moving object or toy in front of their face. Your optometrist may dilate your baby’s pupils using eye drops. The doctor may also use an instrument called an ophthalmoscope, which is a lighted tool with a magnifying glass, in order to look at the entire eye and make sure the visual system is developing as it should. Your doctor will also check for any refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism), focusing abilities, peripheral vision, and overall eye health.
For a preschool aged child, in addition to checking for refractive errors, your optometrist will also look for certain vision problems that tend to develop during the early years. These include strabismus (misaligned or crossed eyes) and amblyopia (lazy eye). Your child will also be checked for general vision, any focusing problems, depth perception, eye muscle testing, eye coordination testing, and any possible colour blindness. At this age, your doctor may use eye chart tests, pictures, letters and possibly even toys and games to check your child’s vision. Young children may get special glasses with a hole on one side to check their vision (and another pair with the hole on the other side to check each eye) in lieu of the paddle that adults or older children will use. Again, drops may be used to dilate the pupils which allows for a better look at the retina, optic nerve and blood vessels in the eye. Your doctor will give a general health assessment at both the front and back of the eye which can hopefully rule out any cataracts, eye diseases or other conditions.
If any problems are diagnosed, your child may be fitted for glasses or contact lenses at this time.
If you or your child is nervous about a first eye exam, remember that pediatric eye doctors are used to working with kids. They will do everything necessary, (from toys to silly faces!) to make sure your child has the most comfortable, enjoyable experience possible.