Reviewed by: Dr. Matthew Miller, OD on Jan 18, 2021

Parents often ask me, “Does my child need an eye examination?” or, “How often should I get my kid's eyes examined?” These are valid questions, and I’m glad that parents ask them because it’s sometimes really easy to miss vision problems in children.

How do I know my child needs an eye examination?

Unless their eyes start to hurt, there’s a sudden change, or their vision is particularly poor, most children don’t complain about their eyes or blurry vision. I’ve had many parents who bring their children in for an eye examination and are shocked to learn that their child’s vision is poor, or that there is an underlying problem with their eyes. For example, most children with a lazy eye (amblyopia) don’t even realize that it’s not normal to have an eye they can’t see very well out of — they think that everyone probably has an eye they don’t see as well out of. Or, because one eye has good vision, they don’t even care that the other eye is blurry.

With the above example in mind, this is why it’s so important to get your children’s eyes examined. Consider it a part of their health plan, just like you would going to the pediatrician or the dentist.

What happens during an eye exam for kids?

A children’s eye exam generally consists of the same components as an adult’s eye exam. The doctor will assess your child’s vision, eye movements, eye alignment, pupil reactions, peripheral vision, the overall health of the front and back of the eye and the surrounding anatomical structures, and then make suggestions based on what they see to improve vision or eye health. The tests usually performed to assess children may be modified based on their age, comprehension level, and ability to follow directions. Luckily, there are many methods at our disposal to accurately assess health and vision beyond the customary “Which is better? One or two?”.

At what age should kids see an eye doctor?

A good guideline to follow, as far as when to start having your child see an eye care professional, is usually about Pre-K age (around four years old or so). Certainly, if you notice a problem, such as an eye that drifts in or out, constant rubbing, redness and watering, hard blinking, squinting, or abnormal clumsiness, it would be a good idea to get their eyes examined before this time.

How often do kids need eye exams?

After the initial exam, if your child has good vision and healthy eyes, your eye care practitioner may recommend having an exam yearly or every two years, returning sooner if the parent sees a problem.

As a practitioner, I prefer at least yearly eye exams, even in the absence of a problem, for all of my patients, young and old. It’s a good idea because there’s so much we can learn from an eye examination about your overall health, not just your eyes. And, keep in mind, you likely take your children to the pediatrician and dentist twice a year each. Besides, most kids think visiting the eye doctor is fun!