Healthy eyes and vision are a critical part of kids' development. Their eyes should
be examined regularly, as many vision problems and eye diseases can be detected and
Be sure to make vision care and eye checks a part of your child's routine medical
Different kinds of doctors offer eye care, and the names can be confusing:
Ophthalmologists are medical doctors who provide comprehensive
eye care with medicine and surgery.
Pediatric ophthalmologists are doctors who have additional special
training to treat kids' eye problems.
Optometrists provide services that may be similar to ophthalmologists,
but they don't perform surgery. Some optometrists specialize in kids' eye problems.
Opticians fit and adjust eyeglasses.
Routine medical exams for kids' vision include:
Newborns should be checked for general eye health by a pediatrician or family
physician in the hospital nursery.
High-risk newborns (including premature infants), those with a family history
of eye problems, and those with obvious eye irregularities should be examined by an
In the first year of life, all infants should be routinely screened for eye health
during checkups with their pediatrician or family doctor.
Around age 3½, kids should have eye health screenings and visual acuity tests
(tests that measure sharpness of vision) with their pediatrician or family doctor.
Around age 5, kids should have their vision and eye alignment checked by their
pediatrician or family doctor. Those who fail either test should be examined by an
After age 5, routine screenings should be done at school and the primary doctor's
office, and if symptoms such as squinting or frequent headaches occur. (Many times,
a teacher will notice that a child isn't seeing well in class.)
Kids who wear prescription glasses or contacts should have annual checkups by
an eye doctor to screen for vision changes.
Spotting Eye Problems
Signs that a child may have vision problems include:
constant eye rubbing
extreme light sensitivity
poor visual tracking (following an object)
abnormal alignment or movement of the eyes (after 6 months of age)
chronic redness of the eyes
chronic tearing of the eyes
a white pupil instead of black
In school-age children, other signs to watch for include:
being unable to see objects at a distance
having trouble reading the blackboard
sitting too close to the TV
Watch your child for signs of poor vision or crossed eyes. If you notice any eye
problems, have your child examined right away so that the problem doesn't become
permanent. If caught early, eye conditions often can be corrected.
Common Eye Problems
Several eye conditions can affect kids. Most are detected by a vision screening
using an acuity chart during the preschool years.
Amblyopia ("lazy eye") is poor vision in an eye that may appear
to be normal. Two common causes are crossed eyes and a difference in the refractive
error between the two eyes. If untreated, amblyopia can cause irreversible visual
loss in the affected eye. (By then, the brain's "programming" will ignore signals
from that eye.) Amblyopia is best treated as early as possible, ideally before a child
is 8 years old.
Strabismus is a misalignment of the eyes; they may turn in, out,
up, or down. If the same eye is chronically misaligned, amblyopia may also develop
in that eye. With early detection, vision can be restored by patching the properly
aligned eye, which forces the misaligned one to work. Surgery or specially designed
glasses also may help the eyes to align.
Refractive errors mean that the shape of the eye doesn't refract
(bend) light properly, so images appear blurred. Refractive errors also can cause
amblyopia. Nearsightedness is the most common refractive error in school-age children;
others include farsightedness and astigmatism:
Nearsightedness is poor distance vision (also called myopia),
which is usually treated with glasses or contacts.
Farsightedness (also called hyperopia), which is usually treated
with glasses or contacts.
Astigmatism is imperfect curvature of the front surface of the
eye, which is usually treated with glasses if it causes blurred vision or discomfort.
Other eye conditions need immediate attention, such as retinopathy
of prematurity (a disease that affects the eyes of premature babies)
and those associated with a family history, including:
is a malignant tumor that usually appears in the first 3 years of life. The affected
eye or eyes may have visual loss and whiteness in the pupil.
Infantile cataracts can occur in newborns. A cataract is a clouding
of the eye's lens.
Congenital glaucoma in infants is a rare condition that may be
inherited. It is the result of high pressure in the eye from incorrect or incomplete
development of the eye drainage canals before birth and can be treated with medication
Genetic or metabolic diseases of the eye, such as inherited disorders
that make a child more likely to develop retinoblastoma or cataracts, may require
kids to have eye exams at an early age and regular screenings.
Be sure to talk to your doctor if your child is at risk for any of these conditions.
Glasses and Contacts
Kids of all ages — even babies — can wear glasses and contacts.
Keep these tips in mind for kids who wear glasses:
Let kids pick their own frames.
Plastic frames are best for children younger than 2.
If older kids wear metal frames, make sure they have spring hinges, which are
An elastic strap attached to the glasses will help keep them in place for active
Kids with severe eye problems may need special lenses called high-index lenses,
which are thinner and lighter than plastic lenses.
Polycarbonate lenses are best for all kids, especially those who play sports.
Polycarbonate is a tough, shatterproof, clear thermoplastic used to make thin, light
lenses. However, although they're very impact-resistant, these lenses scratch more
easily than plastic lenses.
Babies born with congenital cataracts may need to have the cataracts surgically
removed during the first few weeks of life. Some wear contact lenses after cataract
Around age 10, kids may want to get contact lenses for cosmetic reasons or
if they play sports. To wear contacts, a child will need to know how to insert and
remove lenses properly, take them out as required, and clean them as recommended by
the doctor. Contact lens problems are almost always due to poor habits and bad
Your eye doctor can help you decide what type of vision correction is best for