Good eyesight is vital to children’s success in school. That is why schools often screen students to identify those who are having problems seeing in class. Some parents are shocked when their child fails and eyesight screening at school. But whether or not your child has been screened at school, your child should have a full eye exam every year. Lea Ann Lope, DO, an ophthalmologist with UPMC Children’s Hospital, discusses the importance of annual eye exams for kids.

What’s In An Eye Exam?

A yearly eye exam is much more than just looking at an eye chart, covering one eye, and saying which way the “E” is facing!

A full eye exam includes four key evaluations:

  • A visual acuity measurement of each eye at both distance and near
  • Alignment testing to make sure that the eyes are straight
  • An examination of the front part of  the eye
  • An examination of the full dilated retina

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When Should My Child Start Having Eye Exams?

In terms of age, if no problems have been recognized beforehand, kids will generally be cooperative for an eye exam around the age of three. It is important, however, that children have their first eye exams by the time they are ready to enter kindergarten.

Why Have An Eye Exam Every Year?

When children have an annual eye exam, their ophthalmologist or optometrist will be able to pick up on eye issues that are different from the original reason they came into the office.

For example, parents often are not aware that their child is seeing better out of one eye or the other. In fact, the child might not be aware of it either!  If kids are seeing well out of one eye, they don’t usually realize that the other is not seeing as well, and therefore, they don’t complain about it. Vision screens and routine eye exams are important for picking up on this.

In addition, kids can experience significant vision changes from one school year to the next because the eyes and brains of children are unique and growing. Kids can develop something called amblyopia, a visual impairment in one or both eyes. There are various causes of amblyopia, including an uncorrected refractive error requiring glasses, eyes that are not fully aligned and working together, or anything that blocks the vision in one eye, such as a cataract or drooping eyelid.

Sometimes, there is only a limited time during childhood that eye issues can be treated before they become permanent. The earlier we make the diagnosis, the better the child will do in the long run.

As kids progress in age and school, their glasses prescription may change.  At UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, we are now educating patients on the prevention of myopia, or nearsightedness progression, and providing treatment when indicated.

What Are the Signs That My Child Needs Glasses?

Signs and symptoms parents should be on the lookout for are:

  • Your child complains that they are having trouble seeing. Listen to your child. If they are old enough to tell they’re having trouble, they are probably right.
  • Your primary care doctor or school nurse says your child did not pass an vision screening. Although not a full exam, screenings can be helpful in picking up eye issues that are not recognized at home.
  • Your child’s performance or behavior in school has changed. Vision issues and the inability to see clearly at a distance can lead to inattention in school and frustration when trying to do schoolwork.
  • A child who once enjoyed reading now finds it difficult or uninteresting. It’s hard to enjoy a book or focus on the pages when you’re having trouble seeing. Kids may develop an aversion to reading without realizing that the problem is with their vision.
  • Your child’s eyes look different in photographs, as if both eyes are not moving and working together. Observe your child at play. If something looks off, schedule an eye exam.

Acting early to get your child’s eyes examined can affect how their vision develops for the rest of their life. There is only a short window during childhood to treat many ocular conditions. The earlier your child can be diagnosed, the quicker treatment can begin.

For more information and how to make an appointment with our Eye Center, please visit  www.chp.edu/CHP/ophthalmology.

About UPMC

A $21 billion health care provider and insurer, Pittsburgh-based UPMC is inventing new models of patient-centered, cost-effective, accountable care. The largest nongovernmental employer in Pennsylvania, UPMC integrates more than 90,000 employees, 40 hospitals, 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient sites, and a 3.8 million-member Insurance Services Division, the largest medical insurer in western Pennsylvania. In the most recent fiscal year, UPMC contributed $1.4 billion in benefits to its communities, including more care to the region’s most vulnerable citizens than any other health care institution, and paid more than $500 million in federal, state, and local taxes. Working in close collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, UPMC shares its clinical, managerial, and technological skills worldwide through its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, and through UPMC International. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside on its annual Honor Roll of America’s Best Hospitals and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals. For more information, go to UPMC.com.