The first 12 months
A newborn baby’s eyes are checked within 72 hours of birth for signs of abnormalities, such as congenital cataracts (a cataract is a clouding of the normally clear and transparent lens inside the eye, which can cause blurry or hazy vision). Although serious vision problems during childhood are rare, early testing ensures that any problems are picked up and treated as early as possible.
Your child will usually have their second eye examination when they are six to eight weeks old, carried out by your GP or health visitor. Your child’s vision should also be tested before they start school at around four to five years old.
A child’s vision should develop in the following way over the first year of life:
- Six weeks old: follows a colourful or interesting object, such as a face, with their eyes
- Two to three months old: starts to reach for things they see
- Three to five months old: starts to mimic facial expressions and look at objects more closely
- Six to twelve months old: focuses on objects that are both near and far away, sees simple shapes, scribbles with a crayon and is interested in pictures.
It is really up to the parent to be vigilant when it comes to vision problems in this age group. Signs of a possible problem include:
- Erratic eye movements
- Not turning towards the source of sounds (also a sign of hearing impairment)
- Poking or rubbing their eyes
- Not making eye contact
Your child might have a problem with their vision, such as short sightedness (myopia), long sightedness (hyperopia), a lazy eye (amblyopia) or a squint (where the eyes look in different directions). Retinoblastoma – the most common malignant tumour of the eye in children accounting for three per cent of all childhood cancers – should always be ruled out for all cases of squint in babies and children, using a special test called the red reflex test.
From about 12 months onwards, it is possible to measure and assess your child’s vision more accurately. The young child’s retina continues to develop rapidly until the age of two or three. Thereafter, development slows until its completion at age seven or eight. The key point about screening is to catch any problems before this development is complete to avoid amblyopia, which occurs when the developing retina is not stimulated due to the image not reaching it or ocular misalignment. If you have any concerns about your infant or toddler’s eyes, always speak to your GP who may make a referral to an appropriate eye health professional.
By age three, it is advisable that your child should have a thorough optometric eye examination to make sure his or her vision is developing properly and there is no evidence of eye disease. If needed, your optometrist can prescribe treatment, including glasses and/or vision therapy, to correct a vision development problem. With today’s diagnostic equipment and tests, a child does not have to know the alphabet or how to read to have his or her eyes examined.
It’s also never too early to think about UV protection for your child’s eyes. Prolonged exposure to UV rays can harm your child’s sight and lead to problems in later life, so the earlier you begin protecting their eyes from the sun the better. Make sure your children wear hats and protective glasses when they are out in the sunlight for prolonged periods.