When Should Your Child Have Their First Eye Exam?

From their first tooth to their first haircut, there are many exciting milestones to be celebrated as your little one quickly grows up.

But have you thought about their first eye exam?

Oftentimes, eye exams are not something parents worry about until their child starts school. That’s when vision problems will crop up, isn’t it?

The truth is, many vision problems can be detected in children when they are as young as an infant. And, the sooner these issues are detected, the sooner they can be treated.

While you may be tempted to put off your little one’s eye exam until they are school-aged, it is recommended that you have their eyes tested even when they are still a baby.

It may seem pointless, but pediatric eye doctors have many tools and techniques they use to examine the health of your child’s eyes even if they can’t read letters on a chart.

Curious to know more about your child’s first eye exam? Keep reading to find out why you should have your child’s eyes tested as soon as possible and what to expect:

Why Should Your Child Have Regular Eye Exams?

The earlier you have your child’s eyes tested, the better. Undiagnosed conditions or abnormalities can lead to vision loss but many of them can be reversed if they are caught early enough.

One example of this is lazy eye where one eye is weaker than the other. This is a common vision problem for children and responds well to treatments such as eye patches, eye drops, or glasses.

In order to catch issues early, don’t wait until your little one is in school. Having your child’s eyes tested before they start kindergarten is an ideal time to address any potential issues with their vision.

You should also take your family history into consideration, especially if you or any siblings have vision problems. Your child is more likely to have vision issues if they run in your family so it’s important to start monitoring as early as possible.

It’s important for you to trust your instincts as well. You’ll be the first to notice signs of trouble when it comes to your child’s vision and eyes so don’t be afraid to have them tested early or retested to catch something that may have been missed.

Pediatric ophthalmologists specialize in detecting and treating children’s eye problems using kid-friendly tools to pinpoint problems – even if your child hasn’t started talking or knows their alphabet.

What to Expect During Your Child’s First Eye Exam

The process of an eye exam will vary according to your child’s age, needs, and ability to express themselves.

For example, eye exams for infants will rely on objective tests whereas your teenager’s eye exam will gather subjective information (such as reading an eye chart).

During every appointment, however, your child’s eye doctor will evaluate the health of their eyes to detect any diseases, disorders, or issues. They will also check to see if their vision is developing properly and make sure their vision is functional.

For infants, objective testing is used to test their acuity and fixation by using a target to see if they follow it and maintain their vision. Other objective tests will determine if their eyes are aligned properly and test their eye coordination and eye pressure.

These tests can also check for signs of eye disease, refractive errors, and issues with the front and back tissue of the eyes.

Because late toddlers have developed communication and learning skills, subjective measurements can be taken to determine any vision deficiencies such as nearsightedness or farsightedness with distant vision and reading vision tests.

Color vision can also be tested.

Common Vision Issues in Children

Here are some common pediatric eye problems that early eye exams can help detect:

  • Lazy Eye (Amblyopia): One or both eyes do not develop normal vision, causing weakness in the eye.
  • Astigmatism/Farsightedness/Nearsightedness: Caused by abnormalities in the surface of the eye that prevent light from properly being focused on the retina.
  • Childhood Tearing (Epiphora): A blockage of the tear drainage system that tends to occur spontaneously between the ages of 6 and 12 months.
  • Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI): Vision loss due to abnormalities of the visual center of the brain.
  • Developmental Abnormalities: Abnormalities in the visual system that occur during fetal development including coloboma, microphthalmia, and optic nerve hypoplasia.
  • Double Vision (Diplopia): Caused by the misalignment of the eyes (strabismus/crossed eyes) that causes one object to be seen in two different places at the same time.
  • Nystagmus: An involuntary side-to-side, up and down, or rotary movement of the eyes.
  • Pediatric Cataract: A cloudiness of the eye’s lens that interferes with light passing to the retina.
  • Pediatric Glaucoma: High pressure within the eye that can damage the optic nerve.
  • Pediatric Ptosis (Drooping Eyelid): Caused by a weakness in the muscle that elevates the eyelid.
  • Crossed Eyes (Strabismus): The eye turns inward, outward, upward, or downward and can lead to double vision or permanent loss of vision if left untreated.

The earlier these conditions are detected, the sooner your child’s eye doctor can recommend and implement treatment to prevent risks to their vision in the future.

Are Children’s Eye Exams Covered by Health Insurance?

Most provinces in Canada will cover the cost of your child’s eye exam:

  • New Brunswick: While there is no universal government coverage for eye exams, special programs exist for underprivileged children under the age of 18. Plus, all 4-year-old children are entitled to one free eye examination.
  • Québec: The RAMQ (Régie de l’assurance maladie due Québec) public plan covers optometry services for children 18 years old or younger.
  • Ontario: OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Plan) covers children 19 years of age and under for the full cost of annual eye exams as well as any required follow-up assessments.
  • Alberta: AHC (Alberta Health Care) coverage allows children under 19 to attend one comprehensive eye exam, partial examination, and diagnostic procedure each year.
  • British Columbia: The BC Medical Service Plan (MSP) covers annual eye exam fees for children 18 years old or younger.

If your child is not eligible under provincial coverage, talk to your health insurance provider to see what kind of coverage is included in your policy and the amount it will cover.

In the United States, there are multiple national programs that offer free or low-cost eye exams and eyewear for individuals with limited income such as EyeCare America and Vision USA.

As far as government programs go, Medicaid may offer you some vision coverage with the exact services covered depending on your state.

In states that do include vision coverage, it is always included for people 21 years old and younger.

Taking Care of Eye Health

The health of your child’s eyes is no small potatoes and should be taken as seriously as the rest of their physical health.

Don’t put off having their eyes examined – book your appointment as soon as possible!

Today’s caution will prevent tomorrow’s issues and ensure that your little one has healthy eyes and vision throughout their lifetime.

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