By Dr. Tina Morowat
Many Canadian parents are not aware that an eye examination is recommended for infants as early as 6 months old. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends an eye exam at 6-9 months old, between 2 to 5 years old and then annually (or as recommended by the optometrist) from ages 6 to 19. There are several reasons for these early recommendations.
- Certain eye conditions are without symptoms and show no visible signs.
- Other conditions may cause eyestrain and blurry vision, however the child may not complain as it may seem normal to them if they have never experienced clear, comfortable vision. Infants and toddlers are too young to verbalize a complaint.
- Eye conditions that can cause permanently reduced vision and affect depth perception are best treated in early childhood.
You may be wondering… “How can an eye exam be performed on a baby who does not give any verbal responses?” Optometrists objectively assess vision, refractive error, eye alignment and ocular health in order to treat and prevent common conditions, and also can detect rare life- or sight-threatening disorders. Optometrists use a variety of techniques to achieve this, and often use drops that dilate the pupils and relax the focusing muscles for a more accurate and thorough assessment.
Between 2.5-3 years old, a more interactive eye examination is possible as the toddler is usually able to give responses. Optometrists check vision using pictures and much of the testing is presented in the form of “games”. We test for certain types of eye turns which typically begin to occur at this age, as well as high refractive disorders. Leaving these, often symptomless conditions, uncorrected can result in amblyopia, or a lazy eye. Significant hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism are also risk factors for amblyopia and are associated with poor visual perceptual skills and learning disabilities. Other testing such as stereopsis and colour vision is also performed.
By ages 4 and up, optometrists assess for any conditions that may interfere with visual development, visual perceptual skills and early learning. This includes binocular vision disorders and refractive errors, including early myopia.
Twenty five percent of children have some form of vision problem, yet less than 30% of children are taking advantage of yearly OHIP-insured eye examinations.
Eye See…Eye Learn® is a program offered by the Ontario Association of Optometrists that provides a complimentary pair of glasses by participating local optometrists to junior kindergarten students across Ontario. The program was developed to raise awareness among parents of the importance of having their children’s eyes checked when starting school.
Much of learning begins through the eyes and our goal as optometrists is to provide clear and effective vision for children to ensure the highest visual and learning potential in life. A little prevention goes a long way. Don’t hesitate to call our office today and reserve a convenient appointment for your child.