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How young can a child get an eye test?
Medically reviewed by Christine Cancar on 11 July 2022
Several routine eye checks should occur during the first few years of your baby's life to detect any immediate visual issues from birth.
These checks can happen at a range of times, starting from when they are born and continuing into the early years of their lives.
A new-born physical examination takes place 72 hours after birth, with a follow-up eye check taking place when your child is between six to eight weeks old.
When a child is 1 year old, or between 2 and 2 and a half years old, an eye test can be arranged should there be any concern about their eyesight.
A child may also have their eyes checked when enrolled in full-time education at school, shortly after they start. However, not all schools offer this service, so if you find that they don't get checked, you should take them to the opticians.
What eye problems can be detected in babies and children?
An eye exam can detect a range of health problems and eye conditions including:
- Refractive errors such as astigmatism
- Squinting (strabismus)
- Colour blindness
- Short-sightedness (myopia)
- Long-sightedness (hyperopia)
- Lazy eye (amblyopia)
How do you test a baby's eyesight?
There are a variety of sight tests for checking the visual acuity of young children and babies. These tests include the following:
The red reflex test
This test is a normal part of new-born checks. It involves the use of an ophthalmoscope, an instrument which uses light and magnifies the eyes for them to be examined effectively.
Light is shone into a baby's eyes and should reflect a red reflection. If a white reflection is reflected instead, this could indicate vision problems.
The pupil reflex test
This involves shining a light into a baby's eyes to see how their pupils (the black dots at the centre of the eyes) react to the light. If their eyes don't shrink in response to the light, this could indicate a problem.
Attention to visual objects (visual field test)
An object is placed in front of a baby’s eyes to try and attract their attention. It is then moved, and the baby's eyes are observed to see if they follow.
These are used as soon as a young child can start recognising letters.
A Snellen chart has rows of letters and numbers which descend in size. A child is positioned at a specific distance from the chart and asked to read out the letters. If they fail to read out the letters, the child will need glasses.
For younger children, a similar test using pictures and symbols may be carried out.
Range of movements test
An object is moved to eight different positions to test children's eye movements and how their eye muscles work.
An optometrist will carry out this test to see whether a child needs to wear glasses.
Special eye drops may be used before the test to dilate (widen) the pupils, enabling the optometrist to get a better view of the eye and examine the back of the eyes more clearly.
The optometrist will then place a range of lenses in front of a child's eyes as they are asked to look at a light and read the letters on a chart.
Colour vision deficiency test
These tests are usually carried out in older children if a problem is suspected.
They are also referred to as colour blindness tests. One, in particular, is the Ishihara test which involves looking at images made up of two different coloured dots featuring a letter or number within the image. If a child can distinguish the letter or number, then this indicates that their vision regarding colour is fine.
Spotting the signs of an eye problem in children
A child needs to get an eye test to spot the signs of an eye problem early on. The Association of Optometrists (AOP) stated that one in five children have an undetected eye problem.
Signs of an eye problem include:
- Tired eyes
- Excessive rubbing
- Trouble reading
- Eyes pointing in different directions
- Difficulty focussing and seeing the board at school
- Sitting too close to the TV to see
- Light sensitivity
How often should a child have their eyes tested?
During the first few years, if there are any problems with your child’s eyes or vision, it’s highly recommended to visit an optician or GP to see if any action is needed. However, if no issues arise then your child will only need to have their eye health checked every 1-2 years, as is the case with adults.
Young children are typically recommended to have their eyes checked every 6-12 months. Nevertheless, your optician/eye care professional will best advise on how often your child needs to have their eyes tested.
How young can a child wear contact lenses?
There are many benefits of contact lenses for children, especially if they are active. For example, contact lenses give children the freedom of running about when playing sports and also offer a better field of vision.
There is no set age limit on how old you have to be to wear contact lenses. However, when deciding whether you want your child to wear glasses or contact lenses, you should take into consideration your child's ability to clean, handle and take care of their lenses properly. If you don't think your child is ready for the responsibility of a cleaning routine, they could try wearing daily disposable contact lenses. Your optician will be able to advise and recommend the most suitable lenses for you child.
Having said this, many eye care professionals typically recommend lenses to children around the age of 11. Although, there is no age limit and this can be a decision that the optician, parents and the child make together.
Quick links:How do I get a free eye test?
At what age can my child wear contacts?
How can I tell if my child has vision problems?