No one likes the idea of getting glasses or contact lenses. They’re awkward, they’re too easy to break, and glasses, at least, leave you vulnerable to mockery. In spite of this, glasses are often necessary to ensure that we can see properly, and for children, it becomes especially important. It’s hard to make it through the school day when you can’t even see the whiteboard from the back of the classroom.  When should you consider taking your kids to the eye doctor and what should you expect when you get there?

Your Child is at Least 6 Months Old

Traditionally, children received their first eye exam when they entered school, between age 5 and 6 when they reached kindergarten. Newer studies have resulted in some changes to that practice.  Today, it is recommended that you have your child’s eye’s examined at 6 months old, and then again when they turn 3. This is designed to catch any potential eyesight problems early and allow them to be treated proactively rather than simply reacting to problems as they occur.

A good rule of thumb is to schedule your child’s first eye exam at the same time you’re scheduling their first dental appointment  around 6 months.

Your Child Was Born Prematurely

The eyes develop the most during the last three months of pregnancy, so a premature birth can potentially cause vision problems both early or later in life.

While there isn’t much you can do to prevent these problems after a premature birth, being prepared for the potential vision problems and getting your child’s eye examined early can help you stay ahead of   vision issues that might crop up later in life. Many of the issues, such as crossed eyes, nearsightedness and farsightedness, can also be detected by early eye doctor appointments.

Your Child is Complaining of Headaches

If your last name falls toward the end of the alphabet, your child may end up sitting in the back of the classroom if their teacher seats their students by their last name.  Your writer today was one of those kids, with a last name that started with S. I was always sitting toward the back of the classroom. And every day, I was coming home with headaches, because I was spending most of my day trying to force my eyes to focus on the chalkboard at the far side of the classroom.

If your child is complaining of headaches frequently, it’s always a good idea to make an appointment with his or her pediatrician to ensure that the headaches aren’t being caused by any other problems. Once other symptoms have been ruled out, the pediatrician will likely refer you to an eye doctor for an exam.

Your Child is Demonstrating Poor Hand-Eye Coordination

This isn’t always a tell-all for eye problems. Some kids just have trouble catching a ball. If your child has demonstrated consistent problems with hand eye coordination, eyesight problems could be to blame.

It might not even present itself as problems in play. Some hand eye coordination problems are noticed first as problems with drawing or writing. Being unable to stay within the lines in a coloring book can be a sign of genius, or it could be a sign of poor hand eye coordination caused by vision problems.

These problems may be detected before they ever manifest in your child’s behavior. If your children haven’t had an eye exam in a while, it might be time to schedule one.

What To Expect At Your Child’s Appointment

Once your appointment has been scheduled, what should you expect once you finally arrive?

  • The exam will vary depending on your child’s age and his or her ability to communicate. There are techniques that have been developed to test eyesight for infants, toddlers, and older children.
  • Expect to answer a lot of questions, especially at your first appointment. Both your medical history and your child’s can be useful when evaluating eye health.
  • Intraocular pressure will likely be checked. This is the little puff of air on each eye that you’ve probably experienced yourself during your own exams. Quick, painless, and allows the doctor to check for problems like glaucoma.
  • Your eye doctor will check for eye motion and muscle use in the eyes. Basically, this just means that he or she will observe how your child’s eyes move. Muscle problems can cause problems both with vision and with the health of the eye itself.
  • Depending on age, your child’s eyes might be dilated. We’ve all been there — the eye drops burn and then you have to wear those silly sunglasses for hours afterward.

Be Prepared When Taking Kids to The Eye Doctor

Have a list of questions to ask, either during the exam or afterward. You are your child’s best advocate, especially before they are able to communicate themselves, so make sure you speak up.  Trust those mommy or daddy instincts. You probably will know that something is wrong long before your pediatrician or eye doctor ever notices anything.

Eye appointments  should be scheduled as preventative appointments.  If you have a hard time remembering, try to schedule them the same time that you would schedule school physicals or well child appointments.  A child with no vision problems should have a visit with the eye doctor every two years.  Those who are already wearing glasses or have had a problem diagnosed should schedule a visit annually unless your doctor indicates otherwise.

Don’t ignore your eye health. You only get one pair of eyes. It’s up to you to take care of them and to be an advocate for your children until they are old enough to take care of themselves. Take your kids to the eye doctor regularly!