When should my child have his first eye exam?

Routine eye exams are essential for children to be ready to learn in school, and experts say more than 80 percent of information children receive in classrooms is presented visually.

According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), children generally should have their first eye exam at six months of age, another exam at age three and again at the start of school. Risk-free children should then continue to have their eyes examined every two years until age 18.

Children with risk factors for vision problems may need their first eye exam earlier than six months of age and may need more frequent eye exams throughout childhood. Examples of risk factors include:

History of premature birth or low birth weight
Infection of mother during pregnancy (examples: rubella, venereal disease, herpes, AIDS)
Developmental delays
Turned or crossed eyes (strabismus)
Family history of eye disease
High refractive error or anisometropia
Other physical illness or disease

Also, children who currently wear eyeglasses or contact lenses should have annual eye exams, according to the AOA.

Unfortunately, many American children don’t receive the eye care they need, and children in poor families are at the greatest risk of undetected vision problems. According to the National Commission on Vision and Health (NCVH), 83 percent of families earning less than twice the federal poverty level include children who have not had an eye exam in the last year.

Currently, 15 states do not require any form of vision screenings or exams for children prior to them beginning school, resulting in “a public health emergency for millions of children,” according to NCVH. Even in states that have requirements for vision screenings for schoolchildren, researchers found that screenings failed to detect vision problems in one-third of children who had them, and most of the children who fail vision screenings don’t receive the follow-up vision care they need, NCVH says.

 

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Recommended Eye Exam Frequency for Children
Patient Age or Situation Examination Interval if Asymptomatic or Risk-Free Examination Interval if at Risk
Birth to 24 months At 6 months of age By 6 months of age or as recommended
2 to 5 years At 3 years of age At 3 years of age or as recommended
6 to 18 years Before first grade and every two years thereafter Annually or as recommended
Children who wear eyeglasses or contact lenses Annually or as recommended Annually or as recommended
Reprinted with permission from the American Optometric Association

 

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