Children’s Eye Exams & Health
Toddlers & Preschoolers
Signs and Symptoms Your child May Have A Visual Problem
Vision Success At School
Digital Eye Strain
Eye Conditions Affecting Children
Protecting Your Child's Eyes From The Sun
Eye Infections and Injuries
Children’s annual eye exams are covered by Alberta Health* until their 19th birthday.
Doctors of optometry recommend that babies have their first exam between six and nine months. They will check to ensure:
- their eyes are healthy;
- the eye muscle movements and alignment are developing properly; and
- the eyes are focusing together.
Newborns have all the ocular structures necessary to see, although these are not yet fully developed. At birth, your baby can see blurred patterns of light and dark.
During the first four months, their visual horizon will expand from a few centimetres to many metres. Their vision will become clearer and colour vision will begin to develop. Their two eyes will start working together. By four months of age, an infant’s colour vision is similar to an adults, and by the sixth month, your baby will acquire eye movement control and develop eye-hand coordination skills.
For the first six months, an infant’s eyes can appear slightly crossed or out of alignment, but this is normal. However, if your infant’s eyes appear significantly crossed or remain misaligned, contact your doctor of optometry.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
Doctors of optometry recommend children have at least one eye exam between the ages of two and five. They will check to ensure:
- visual development is continuing normally; and
- their depth perception, eye-hand coordination and visualization skills are appropriate for their age.
Children at age two enjoy listening to and looking at storybooks. It helps them develop visualization skills and prepares them for learning to read. At this stage of their development, toddlers also like to paint, draw and colour, sort shapes and sizes, and fit or assemble pieces. These activities are all integral to their visual development.
Preschooler’s eyes are not ready for prolonged or intense concentration at short distances. When watching television, they should sit further away than five times the screen’s width and take periodic breaks from staring at the screen.
More children are experiencing digital eye strain from using electronics for extended periods of time. A doctor of optometry can recommend a customized solution, based on the child’s digital habits, to help prevent the adverse effects of digital eye strain.
Once your child reaches kindergarten they should have an annual eye exam, and it is an opportunity to ensure your child is ready for school.
If your child is in kindergarten, has an eye exam, and it is determined that they require eye glasses, the Alberta Association of Optometrists’ Eye See . . . Eye Learn™ program will provide a pair of glasses free of charge.
Once in school, it is recommended your child have an annual eye exam, as vision can change quickly.
A school-age child’s eyes are constantly in use in the classroom and at play. For school-aged children, several different visual skills must work together so they can see and understand clearly.
As 80% of a child’s learning is based on vision, and one-in-four school age children has a vision problem, it is important they have a regular eye exam. Approximately 60% of children experiencing reading difficulties have an undiagnosed or untreated vision problem.
Undetected and untreated vision problems can elicit some of the same signs and symptoms that are commonly attributed to other development issues, such as ADHD, dyslexia and speech problems.
Your child may not realize they have a vision problem as they may simply assume everyone sees the way they do. And, it’s not uncommon for parents to believe they would know if their child has a vision problem, because these issues can be hard to spot particularly if there is a problem in only one of the eyes.
Signs and Symptoms Your Child May Have a Visual Problem
Be alert for signs and symptoms that could indicate your child has a visual problem, including:
- red, itchy or watering eyes
- sensitivity to light
- an eye that turns in or out
- squinting, rubbing the eyes, or excessive blinking
- a lack of concentration
- covering or closing one eye
- holding objects very close to the face
- avoiding books and television
- visible frustration or grimacing
- titling the head or unusual posture
If you notice any of these symptoms, book an eye exam appointment with your doctor of optometry.
Vision Success at School
A school-age child’s eyes are constantly in use in the classroom and at play. Several different visual skills must work together so they can see and understand clearly:
- clear vision, both at a distance and up close;
- the ability to maintain focus accurately at any distance;
- good focusing flexibility to allow rapid change from one distance to another;
- binocular vision skills, including control of eye position, movement and tracking; and
- peripheral vision and eye-hand coordination.
If any of these visual skills are lacking or impaired, your child will need to work harder and may develop headaches or fatigue. The increased visual demands of schoolwork can make greater demands on a child’s visual skills, bringing to light a vision problem that was not apparent before starting school.
Your child may not realize they have a vision problem as they may simply assume everyone sees the way they do. A vision-related problem may cause any of the signs and symptoms described below:
- headaches or irritability
- avoiding near or distance work
- covering or rubbing of the eyes
- tilting the head or unusual posture
- using a finger to maintain place while reading
- vomitting or confusing small words when reading
- performing below their potential
Annual eye examsare the only way to ensure your child does not have a vision problem. Book an annual eye exam appointment with your doctor of optometry.
Digital Eye Strain
Digital eye strain is caused by a number of factors, including staring at close-up objects for extended periods of time and exposure to blue light that is emitted by digital devices. Another cause is insufficient blinking. People typically blink 12 times a minute, but when they stare at a screen, they tend to blink only five times a minute, which means their eyes are not being lubricated properly.
Symptoms of digital eye strain include headaches, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, eye irritation, double vision, excessive tearing or dry eyes and excessive blinking or squinting. Children may also exhibit symptoms such as irritability, poor behavior and a reduced attention span.
Research conducted by the Alberta Association of Optometrists indicates 28% of parents say their child experiences symptoms during or after using digital devices. However, digital eye strain may be difficult for parents to detect because children may not show obvious signs of discomfort.
Your doctor of optometry can recommend a customized solution, based on your child’s digital habits, to help prevent the adverse effects of digital eye strain. They may recommend computer glasses, which can help reduce eye fatigue. A blue-light filter can be applied to prescription or non-prescription lenses to minimize the amount of blue light that reaches the eye.
Eye Conditions Affecting Children
Myopia is a common condition in which near objects are seen clearly, but distant objects appear blurred. It can occur at any age, and can be corrected with glasses.
Hyperopia exists when distant objects are easier to see than near objects. The extra effort required to see clearly at close range can cause blur, fatigue, muscle tension, discomfort and headaches. This can be corrected with glasses.
Astigmatismexists when either the cornea and/or the lens inside the eye is slightly irregular or cylindrical in shape, resulting in vision being blurred or distorted at all distances. This can be corrected with glasses.
Strabismus or Crossed Eyes
A crossed eye, which can turn in or out, is a muscle condition in which a child’s eyes are not properly aligned with each other.
Coordination of a child’s eyes, and their ability to work together, starts to develop in infancy. Failure of the eye muscles to work together properly can lead to strabismus (crossed eyes), which generally appears between the ages of birth and three years.
A child will not outgrow strabismus without treatment; in fact, the condition may become worse. Children may initially experience double vision because both eyes are not focusing on the same object. In an attempt to avoid double vision, the brain eventually disregards the image from one eye. In time, the ignored eye will become unable to function normally and will become largely unused, which could result in development of amblyopia (lazy eye).
Treatment for strabismus can include glasses, prisms, vision therapy, and in some cases, surgery. It can be corrected with excellent results if detected and treated early.
Amblyopia or Lazy Eye
Amblyopia is weak vision or low vision in one eye as a result of an uncorrected prescription during the early years of development, or due to strabismus.
It is largely symptom free to a young child, and is the leading cause of preventable vision loss. If detected and treated early, before the age of six, it will often resolve completely. It is vital to treat amblyopia early with vision therapy, glasses, contact lenses and/or patching, as treatment becomes very difficult later on.
If left untreated, amblyopia may lead to a permanent decrease of vision in the affected eye.
Protecting your Child’s Eyes from the Sun
Protecting your child’s eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is just as important as putting on sunscreen to protect their skin, and it is an issue through every season of the year. The glare from snow can be just as harmful as the glare from water. Many age-related eye diseases may be partially caused by UV exposure throughout your life. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable to UV radiation.
Speak to your doctor of optometry about the best options for our child. In addition to appropriate sunglasses, wearing a wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap can provide further protection.
Eye Infections & Injuries
All Albertans are covered by Alberta Health* for medically necessary and urgent care visits to their doctor of optometry. They have the proper knowledge, tools and equipment necessary to diagnose, treat or refer to a specialist, if needed. This includes things, such as:
- eye infections or injuries
- foreign objects in the eyes
- sudden changes in vision
- monitoring for diabetes issues, glaucoma and retinal disease
- post-operative care for cataract patients
You do not need a referral. Discuss your eye problem with the doctor of optometry prior to you appointment to ensure you understand what is covered. Most clinics keep a few daily appointments available for these services.
* Check with your doctor of optometry prior to your appointment to determine if there are any additional costs.