It’s fairly easy for you, and other adults, to know when it is time to pay a visit to the eye doctor. For children, it is much more difficult. That’s why it is crucial for parents to pay attention to warning signs that suggest it’s time to take your child to the eye doctor. Heeding these signs and signals can help save your child from harmful eye problems down the road.

Unfortunately, parents are often willing to take their child to the eye doctor but simply don’t know when. After all, kids usually don’t know that something is worthy of an eye doctor visit because to them, poor vision is the normal. Thankfully, there are some common signs that can tip parents off, letting you know it’s time to take your child to the eye doctor.

Why It Is Important To Take Your Child To The Eye Doctor

Just as it is important for you yourself to visit the eye doctor, it may be even more important for children to. A visit to the eye doctor can correct vision problems and improve quality of life, but it can also help catch truly harmful eye-related diseases from developing into irreversible problems. Children are going through an extraordinary time of development where their bodies change very rapidly. This includes their eyes. During this time, it is vitally important to have an eye doctor check their eyes and track these changes annually or semiannually and treat them accordingly.

When Should I First Take My Child For An Eye Exam?

The American Optometric Association (AOA) states that infants should have an eye exam for the first time at six months of age. Then, they should have a second exam around age three. These first exams are to catch congenital or early-onset eye problems. Since poor eyesight can severely impair your child’s learning, they should have another exam just before entering the first grade, around age 5 or 6. Once your child is school-aged, the AOA suggests they have an eye exam every two years if there are no vision corrections. If your child needs to wear contacts or glasses, they should visit the eye doctor annually, or as guided by your provider. Although these guidelines provide a starting place, you should also pay attention to the following signs and take your child to the eye doctor if they appear, even if they are not yet due for a visit.

Signs Of Problems That Warrant A Visit To The Eye Doctor

Even if they can’t say it, your child is giving you plenty of signs that they need to visit an eye doctor. These can be verbal or non-verbal, so it is equally important to pay attention to words and body language. Even things that seem like simple bad habits, like rubbing their eyes a lot, can be a sign that it’s time to take your child to the eye doctor.

Visual Signs

Looking at your child’s eyes can be a good staring place if you are concerned. Even if they are still an infant, you can look at their eyes to see if there is anything concerning. A key thing to look for is whether your child’s eyes don’t line up. This could mean they are crossed, one looks outward, or the eyes don’t move in unison. You should also look for eyes that are watery or red as these are classic signs of inflammation and could point to an eye-related disease. Finally, look for eyelids that are red-rimmed or crusty. If you notice any of these signs in your child after looking at their eyes, it’s time to take them to the eye doctor.

Verbal Signs

If your child is old enough to talk, they may be able to hint that their eyes are bothering them. Whether this is because of irritation or blurriness, what your child says could be a reason to visit the eye doctor. General comments like “I can’t see very good,” “my eyes are itchy,” or “my eyes feel scratchy” are a few that suggest a problem. While these could also be connected to something like allergies, if you are hearing them over and over, it may be time to visit the eye doctor. After your child does close up work like reading or drawing and says something like, “I feel dizzy,” or “I have headache” this could be a sign of poor eyesight that needs corrected. Finally, if your child frequently asks for you to tell them what something looks like, either close up or far away, it may be a sign that they cannot see it for themselves.

Non-Verbal Signs

In addition to verbal signs, non-verbal signs can carry a lot of information. Keep an eye out for these warning signs that suggest it’s time to take your child to the eye doctor:

  • Frequent squinting or frowning
  • Blinks more than usual
  • Frustration when doing up-close work
  • Holds objects close to their face to see
  • Has trouble reading
  • Tilts head or thrusts it forward
  • Closes or covers one eye often
  • Rubs eyes often

Simple Eye Tests To Help Determine Your Child’s Eye Health

While it is still important to visit a professional to test your child’s eyes, there are a few tests you can do at home to see if it’s time to make that visit. For infants, you can test pupil reflexes with a small light, and test their “fixate and follow” skills by holding up a small object and follow it as it moves. You can also use a test known as preferential looking by holding up two objects, one blank and one with stripes. The striped card should attract the baby’s gaze and helps test for visual capabilities.

For school-aged children, there are different tests, but most of these need to be done by an eye doctor. They will use a retinoscopy to look at the retina and help determine an eyeglasses prescription. The eye doctor will also test for depth perception, lazy eye, misalignment of the eyes (strabismus), and focusing ability.