Glasses Can Help Even Young Children

When should a child get his or her first pair of glasses?

When he or she needs them -- and that may be as young as a few months of age.

Doctors who specialize in children's eye care say kids usually become near- or farsighted between ages 6 and 12. But even infants can wear glasses if they need help to see well. Experts agree that all children should have an eye screening before they enter school.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends that all infants and children be screened for vision problems. Any child who doesn't pass one of the screening tests below should be examined by an ophthalmologist.

Screening guide

The AAO recommends these screenings:

  • A pediatrician or health care provider should examine a newborn's eyes to make sure they are healthy. (An ophthalmologist should look at all newborns at risk for developing serious vision problems in childhood, as well as those with developmental delays.) Not all visual problems are a result of abnormal focus.  Infants may be born with cataracts, cloudy corneas or other problems that impact vision.

  • A health care provider should examine the eyes of youngsters between 6 months and 1 year of age.

  • A health care provider should do vision screening between ages 3 and 3-1/2 years. The focus should be on checking visual acuity. A formal test of visual acuity should be done by age 5.

"The vast majority of children are fine, but it's crucial to catch the few with serious problems early," says Michael R. Redmond, M.D., a past president of the AAO.

Doctors can prescribe glasses -- even bifocals -- and contact lenses for premature infants and other children.

"Glasses can be held in place with an elastic band that reaches behind the head," says Richard W. Hertle, M.D., chief of pediatric ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh. "And children are remarkably adaptable about wearing contacts."

With strabismus, or crossed eyes, the eyes fail to focus on the same object or to converge in unison, Dr. Hertle says. Experts can spot this problem in children as young as 2 or 3 months.

Strabismus may cause reduced vision in the weaker eye, because the brain recognizes the image of the better-seeing eye and ignores the image of the weaker eye. Doctors treat the condition by putting a patch on the "good" eye to strengthen and improve vision in the weaker eye. If the condition is diagnosed when a child is young, treatment is usually successful. Surgery may also be used to make the eyes focus simultaneously on the same point.  This is generally done if patching isn’t successful.

Signs of eye problems

  • Infants older than 3 months who do not make eye contact or have eyes that look different ways should be evaluated by a pediatrician. This may also be a sign of blindness, mental retardation, neurological problems or autism, as well as eye problems.

  • Infants who don't watch a favorite thing (such as a pacifier) if you move it to the side.

  • Children who tilt their heads to see things.

  • Children, including older children, who squint. A school-age child who squints to see the blackboard may be nearsighted.

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