Infant Eye Care: Start early, save vision!
When do babies begin to see? In the past we believed that normal vision was not obtained until a child was a few years old at the earliest. The reason for this was that we did not have the testing methods to properly measure visual function of the very young, non-verbal infant. We now know that infants develop normal adult levels of vision by the age of 6-months! This includes the ability to see 20/20, normal color perception, normal eye muscle movements, and coordinated eye teaming or binocular vision. Sophisticated tests, including measurements of brain wave function in response to visual stimuli, prove this fact.
Even though these functions are established at this early point in time, the visual system is still very "plastic" and is influenced by environmental factors over the coming few years. This is known as the "critical period" of vision development. During the first 4 to 6 years of life normal, symmetric, binocular vision is very important for the development of normal vision. During this time problems like strabismus (eye turns) and amblyopia (lazy eye) can develop if the two eyes are not properly and symmetrically focused. If these conditions are detected early, treatment is highly successful.
At what age should an infant be first examined?
In order to detect the presence of high refractive errors (high nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism) or the presence of a large difference in prescription between the two eyes (anisometropia) which can lead or contribute to strabismus and amblyopia, our pediatric eye care specialists suggest a baseline infant examination prior to the first birthday (age 9 months is highly useful). At this age babies are very cooperative in terms of the eye exam. Trying to examine a 2 year old is far more difficult than examining a 9 month old! We are able to also detect the presence of any congenital eye health problems at that time. The use of eye drops to control focusing of the eyes during the exam and to properly examine the retina and optic nerve is common. Based on the results of the infant eye examination, we will suggest either a treatment plan or if none is necessary then we can determine when the next exam should be scheduled.
When is the next exam suggested for my child if all is well with their infant eye examination?
If everything was normal during the infant exam prior to age 1, or if that visit was missed and all appears to be normal, we suggest the next pediatric eye examination at age 5, prior to entering kindergarten. Depending on those results our pediatric eye care specialists at NSVC will make recommendations for subsequent eye examinations.
What about my Pediatrician examining my child's eyes or school vision screenings?
The eye examination that is done at the pediatrician's office will only discover grossly abnormal eye problems. Often those components that can result in amblyopia are missed during this admittedly simplified examination. For older children, problems in the areas of binocular vision and near focusing are never addressed during the pediatrician visit. You should not consider the pediatrician's evaluation of the eyes a true eye examination. School vision screenings have also been found to be highly insensitive at detecting children’s vision problems. Recent studies found that up to 30% of vision problems are missed during vision screenings. Accordingly, the State of Illinois now requires that a comprehensive eye examination is performed by a doctor prior to a child entering kindergarten