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How to Tell if Your Child Needs Glasses

How do you know if your child needs vision correction? Don’t just assume all is well unless you see them squinting or complaining about their eyes.

We talked with a children’s eye care specialist to get the low-down on kids and vision. Carol Marusich, O.D., practices in Eugene, Ore., and lectures around the country on the topic. Surprised to know that a six-month old should have an eye exam? That’s right. Because early exams are not just about vision. 

The six-month exam is also to make sure the baby’s eyes are developing normally. An eye doctor can spot a condition commonly known as “lazy eye” (the medical term is amblyopia) very early in a child’s life. And, early treatment can stop bigger problems down the road. Other exams should be in the 3 to 4-year-old range, because the eyes have basically done their growing and developing by then. And a pre-kindergarten exam is a must (don’t assume school-offered vision screenings are enough). After that, a yearly trip to the eye doctor will keep tabs on young eyes that can change fast.

An eye exam will also focus on the classic vision problems: nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), structural irregularity in the eye (astigmatism) and a few other conditions, too.

Like any trip to a doctor, kids might be scared to see an eye doctor. But many optometrists, like Dr. Marusich, are skilled at working with children. They actually can make eye exams fun for kids.

“I think the biggest compliment I’ve ever received came from a 3-year-old after her eye exam,” Dr. Marusich recalls. “After I’d finished testing this little girl’s eyes and was about to say goodbye, she looked up and asked me, ‘OK, when are you gonna start my test?”

In between those yearly eye exams, keep a look out for symptoms of eye problems in your child. Because, like everything else going on with their little bodies, their eyes can change seemingly overnight. Here are some things to watch for:

  • Squinting. The classic symptom of either nearsightedness (not seeing well far away) or farsightedness (not seeing well close-up). Glasses are probably in order.
  • Alignment problems. If one eye keeps “drifting off,” it could be “lazy eye” or amblyopia. Treatment includes a corrective eye patch on the normal eye so it forces the weaker eye to work harder and improve. The younger the child, the better to avoid a grade-school patch.
  • One eye. If your child closes one eye and it helps him or her see better, there could be a structural problem like astigmatism.
  • Eye rubbing. If your child rubs his or her eyes or you hear complaints of headaches, see the eye doctor. There may be some eyestrain going on that glasses can help.

Source: VSP