As a new school year approaches, last-minute visits to the family physician or pediatrician and shopping trips for clothes, shoes and school supplies are top-of-mind for parents of young children. Oftentimes, a visit to the eye doctor doesn’t make the list of priorities if no issues or concerns are apparent. So, when should you take your child to the eye doctor?
According to the American Optometric Association (AOA), infants should have their first comprehensive eye exam at 6 months of age. Children then should have additional eye exams at age 3, and just before they enter the first grade – at about age 5 or 6.
For school-aged children, the AOA recommends an eye exam every two years if no vision correction is required. Children who need eyeglasses or contact lenses should be examined annually, or as recommended by their ophthalmologist.
Well-Being reached out to Dr. Alex C. Whittington, Ophthalmologist and the most recent addition to the staff of Jackson Eye Associates’ Madison, MS location, about the importance of eye exams for children, and when parents should take action.
“Some screenings performed at your child’s pediatrician will help to determine whether or not a special trip to an eye doctor is necessary,” says Dr. Whittington. “For example, all children should receive red reflex testing at all infant and regular child evaluations. These tests are vital for early detection of vision- and potentially life-threatening abnormalities such as cataracts, glaucoma, retinoblastoma, retinal abnormalities, systemic diseases with ocular manifestations, and high refractive errors. Any child that is noted to have an abnormal reflex at any time should be referred to an ophthalmologist.”
If a parent or pediatrician notices strabismus (turning in or out of the eyes) in a child of any age, they should be referred to an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. This also goes for any child noted to have asymmetric results when screened by a pediatrician.
When it comes to routine eye exams, children with diabetes need yearly comprehensive eye exams. Diabetic eye disease is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States today.
“Many times, we can see diabetic changes in the eye prior to seeing other damage in the body, and we’re able to give this information to the primary care physician to help with diabetic management,” adds Dr. Whittington.
Routine comprehensive eye exams for grade-schoolers can easily identify whether or not a child may require glasses or contacts due to nearsightedness (the inability to see well at a distance), that often progresses as children grow. This is especially important as children move into a more traditional classroom, where they’re staring at a blackboard for a significant portion of the day. This is also the case for sports. Because most things are happening in the distance, glasses or contacts might be needed to help young players focus on the ball or judge the distance to the rim, etc.
Dr. Whittington also reminds parents not to forget about the high school graduates heading off to college in the fall.
“As teens approach the college age, the eye is growing and this can make them more nearsighted. The larger size of many college classrooms can also make it more difficult to see what it going on at the front of the class, whether it’s on a board or a screen. A good eye exam can easily get these students ready for their new challenges with glasses or contacts that can help them excel,” notes Dr. Whittington.
Alex C. Whittington, M.D., Ophthalmologist, received his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of MS School of Medicine and served his internship and residency in Ophthalmology at University Medical Center. A native Mississippian, Whittington joined Jackson Eye Associates (JEA) from Morgantown, WVA, where he served as Chief Resident of Ocular and Facial Trauma at West Virginia University Eye Institute. At JEA, Whittington offers comprehensive eye exams, contact lens exams, cataract surgery, eyelid surgery and Botox/Dermal fillers.