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Pediatric Eye Exam: A Quick Guide for Parents

Medically reviewed by Victor Paulino, MD, DPBO · Ophthalmology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated May 19, 2021

Pediatric Eye Exam: A Quick Guide for Parents

Eye exams for children are important because some vision problems that appear early on can persist for life. When is the best time for a pediatric eye exam, and how can parents prepare for it?

Vision screening vs. Comprehensive eye exam

Besides vision screening, which we will also refer to as pediatric eye exam in this article, you might have also heard of the comprehensive eye exam. What’s the difference between the two?

Vision screening is a type of eye exam where the child is screened for vision problems. When a child “fails’ a vision screening, it means that the healthcare practitioner noted a problem or found something that needs further assessment. That is the time when your child may need a comprehensive eye exam, which aims to detect eye diseases.

In a comprehensive eye exam, the ophthalmologist (eye doctor) will use eye drops to dilate (widen) your child’s pupils. This gives them a fuller view of the eyes, and the signs of eye diseases become more visible.

The bottom line is: your child may not always need a comprehensive eye exam unless otherwise recommended by a doctor. However, your little one needs to have a timely and regular pediatric eye exam.

pediatric eye exam

The recommended schedule for vision screening

The American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus and the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) encourage parents to use this schedule for vision screening:

  • Newborn: After your baby’s birth, the doctor or a trained healthcare provider will check for the fundamental indicators of eye health.
  • Before their first birthday: The second eye exam needs to happen between 6 and 12 months. At this point, the doctor can now check for healthy eye alignment and movement.
  • Between 12 and 36 months: In their 3rd pediatric eye exam, your child may undergo photo screening, which uses a special camera to check for factors that increase the risk of vision problems, such as refractive errors.
  • Between 3 and 5 years: At this point, the doctor may now use charts to assess your child’s vision sharpness. They will also check symptoms of lazy eye and farsightedness.
  • 5 and up: The doctor will look for signs of misalignment and nearsightedness, the most common vision problems in this age group.

In case the doctor doesn’t find any problem, you will most likely follow the schedule above. However, they may require your child to undergo more frequent screening or a comprehensive eye exam if they suspect an issue.

7 Signs that Your Child Might Need Glasses

How to prepare for a pediatric eye exam

Are you ready to bring your child to the doctor for a vision screening? Then, the following reminders will help:

Don’t delay your child’s vision screening

The first tip is not to delay your child’s eye exam. Remember that the sooner you detect a problem, the earlier you can resolve or manage the issue.

If you don’t know an ophthalmologist at the moment, don’t worry;  your family physician or your child’s pediatrician can screen your child’s vision.

Prepare important details

Before heading to the doctor, be sure to prepare essential details that may be useful. Examples of details to note down are:

  • Your child’s existing medical problems
  • Their allergies, if present
  • Surgical procedures they had
  • List of medications they are taking
  • Previous eye exam results or records
  • Family history, especially of eye conditions

List down questions you may have

Vision screening in children is a great time to ask questions regarding your child’s eye health. For example, you can ask your doctor about the symptoms your child is experiencing. If you find anything odd about your little one’s vision, you can clarify if it’s normal.

However, more inquiries may arise after the vision screening; some of the things you can ask are:

  • What’s the diagnosis?
  • Will the condition get better?
  • How can it affect my child’s vision?
  • How do I know when the treatment is working?
  • When should I bring them again for a check-up?

Methods of screening may vary

Finally, please remember that while the familiar image of an eye exam is the Snellen chart (chart with letters of varying size), the methods of testing vary. The methods depend on the child’s age and capacity. Younger children who cannot read yet may be shown pictures or given toys.

During the exam, the doctor will most likely use an ophthalmoscope, which shines a light on the eyes. Stay with your child to prevent them from feeling agitated.

Learn more about Other Child Health Issues here. 


Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Medically reviewed by

Victor Paulino, MD, DPBO

Ophthalmology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated May 19, 2021

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