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The pediatric eye exam has many similarities to an adult exam, but many of the procedures may be simplified or omitted for the youngest of patients. The main goals of a pediatric exam are to determine your child’s level of vision and whether there is a significant prescription that may affect the development of good vision and the overall eye health.
The determination of a child’s vision may include calling out letters, numbers, or shapes. Vision can also be determined by matching shapes or even as simply as watching an infant track a moving object.
The refraction is also simplified for children. Many younger children will not be asked, “Which is better? 1 or 2?” A prescription is often determined through retinoscopy, which is an objective measurement of the refraction of the eye and often will be repeated after dilation. Dilation in a younger child is crucial in determining an accurate prescription because many children will unintentionally over-focus their eyes leading to an erroneous prescription.
The health of the eye is also often assessed through dilation. This allows for a wider view of the retina to screen for diseases or conditions that could impact the overall health and vision of the child.
The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends a preliminary eye exam for infants aged 6 to 12 months, then at 3 years old before Pre-K and Kindergarten, and again at 6 years old before starting First Grade. The general advice for school aged children is to have an eye exam every two years if no vision correction is required. Children who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses are advised to have an eye exam every year.
Children’s eye exams are critical because vision problems are thought to impact between 5 to 10% of pre-schoolers and 25% of school aged children. Early intervention can prevent vision loss and provide better recovery. Poor eyesight can create learning difficulties, and an untreated eye condition can put a child at a disadvantage.