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Home >> Members & Consumers >> Your Child's Eyes: Get Them Checked Early and Often

Your Child's Eyes: Get Them Checked Early and Often

Vision experts say children should have their first eye exam at 6 months of age. Despite that recommendation, more than 85 percent of America's 20 million children age 5 and under have never had an eye exam, according to the College of Optometrists in Vision Development.

For eyecare doctors like VSP network doctor Nick Brattis, O.D., that high percentage is unfortunate — given that most childhood eye exams can be performed quickly and accurately. And it's so easy to make an appointment with an optometrist or an ophthalmologist. "I've been examining children's eyes for more than 27 years," says the veteran optometrist from Casper, Wyoming, "and I've seen many situations in which diagnosing and treating an eye disorder early in life provided a positive outcome for the child involved."

Dr. Brattis recalls treating one 2-year-old child some 20 years ago. "When I first examined little Miles back in the mid-1980s, I found significant 'lazy eye' (lack of focusing control in one eye, or amblyopia). I prescribed some aggressive therapy in which the child wore a patch over one eye to make the 'lazy eye' stronger. "Miles and his family did a very good job on the therapy, and guess what? That young man is 22 now and he has 20/25 vision. It was a very rewarding experience for an optometrist to see this patient change from being legally blind in one eye at age 2 to having excellent vision as an adult." Dr. Brattis recommends that parents schedule eye exams for their children at three important points during their early development:

  • When the infant is about 6 months old. This exam should be performed by an optometrist who specializes in treating young children or by a pediatric ophthalmologist. During this initial check, the doctor makes sure the eyes are working well together and that they're free of rarely occurring but significant defects — such as cataracts and tumors — that could threaten the child's vision.

  • Between the ages of 2 and 3, before the child enters preschool. During this eye exam, the doctor looks for signs of developmental disorders, including "lazy eye," crossed eyes (strabismus), nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism — which triggers difficulties in focusing. If the doctor finds an irregularity, effective therapies can usually begin immediately, often sparing the child from wearing corrective devices (such as an eye patch) during later years.

  • Before the child enters kindergarten. At this point, the eye doctor tests for sharpness of vision and corrects deficiencies by prescribing glasses.

Says Dr. Brattis: "The great thing about early exams is that we can often start working on problems before they interfere significantly with the child's eyesight — and especially with learning and development!"

Author: Tom Nugent,
Staywell Custom Communications

Reviewed By:
Denis Humphreys, O.D.
VSP Optometry Director

Christian Serdahl, M.D.
VSP Medical Director

Last Reviewed: September, 2005

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