Eye Tests for Children: Why Screening is Important

January 16, 2020

Little boy having eye test at ophthalmologist office; blog: eye tests for children: why screening is important

When it comes to making sure kids are growing and developing in healthy ways, there are many factors to keep track of. One area that needs to be checked regularly is your child’s vision. Consistent vision screenings are an important part of preventative healthcare for children. Your pediatrician is always the best resource for all things related to your child’s health, but we’ve come up with a short guide to eye tests for children.

Why Eye Tests for Children are Important

Having healthy eyes and good vision is important to a child’s development and well-being. Vision problems can interfere with learning ability, school performance. Poor vision can also be a safety issue for children. Having regular vision screenings throughout childhood can help catch problems early so they can be treated.

Eye tests for children should check for the following:

  • Visual acuity: How sharp and clear the vision is.
  • Eye movement/tracking skills: How accurately and smoothly the eyes move from place to place and follow things.
  • Focusing skills: How effectively the eyes focus and refocus when looking from one place to another.
  • Eye teaming/binocular vision: How well both eyes coordinate and work together.

When Should Vision Screening Be Done?

Your child needs to have his or her vision tested at regular intervals. Your pediatrician can give you guidelines for when and how your child’s eyes should be tested. The types of screenings and tests depend on the child’s age. If your child has vision abnormalities, they may need to be tested more regularly or have more specific tests done. The basic schedule for eye screening suggested by the American Academy of Ophthalmology is as follows:

  • Newborn: A baby’s eyes should be examined by their pediatrician soon after they are born. The structure of the eye should be visually examined for infections, defects, cataracts, and glaucoma. If a baby is premature or is at risk for certain medical conditions, an ophthalmologist should perform a comprehensive exam.
  • Infant: Most doctors perform eye health, vision development, and alignment checks at well-child visits between 6 months and one year old. 
  • Preschooler: Between the ages of 3 and 3.5 years old, a child’s vision and eye alignment should be checked by a pediatrician, optometrist, ophthalmologist, or another medical professional. Visual acuity can be tested with an eye chart or photoscreening as soon as they are old enough to cooperate with the tests. 
    • If abnormalities or signs of farsightedness, lazy eye, strabismus, astigmatism, or focusing problems are found during screening, a complete eye exam should be done by an ophthalmologist as a follow up so any necessary treatment can begin as soon as possible.
  • School-age: Vision in each eye should be checked once a year at the annual well-child visit. Your child may be given a vision screening by the school nurse.
    • If any of the issues mentioned above are found at an exam or if the child is showing signs of vision problems, your pediatrician can refer them to a pediatric ophthalmologist.

Screenings vs Exams

A vision screening can detect abnormalities in a child’s vision, but a comprehensive exam can help doctors diagnose problems correctly. Screenings can be performed by several types of professionals, but an exam should be done by an ophthalmologist or optometrist. Based on the results of an eye exam, the doctor can prescribe glasses or other treatments. A comprehensive eye exam includes the use of drops to dilate the pupil to allow the doctor to examine the structures of the eye including the retina. 

A child should get a comprehensive eye exam if:

  • They fail a vision screening
  • Vision screening is inconclusive
  • Vision screening can’t be performed
  • They complain about vision problems or exhibits signs of vision problems
  • There is a family history of vision problems or eye conditions
  • They have a learning disability, developmental delay, or neuropsychological condition

Talk to a Pediatrician

At Holly Springs Pediatrics, we offer iScreen Vision Screening to our patients. iScreen uses the latest digital photoscreening technology to screen for vision problems in infants, pre-school, and school-age children. Photoscreening uses a camera and flash to check for refractive errors and signs of amblyopia (lazy eye), which can be hard to spot otherwise. To make an appointment for iScreen Vision Screening, call us at (919) 249-4700.