At birth, babies can see blurred patterns of light and dark and must begin learning how to use their eyes. During the first four months of life, vision slowly starts to become clearer, their eyes start working together, and their color vision begins to develop. Once they reach six months, babies must learn how to focus, track objects, and use hand-eye coordination to be able to recognize people and grasp objects around them. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends babies get their first eye exam when they are between six months to nine months old. Eye exams at this age are critical to ensuring their eyes are healthy, are focussing together, and that the eye alignment and muscle movements are developing properly.
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Common Vision Problems That Need To Be Corrected At A Young Age
There are several vision problems that children can be born with that need immediate attention and treatment to prevent vision problems in the future. By visiting your optometrist within the first 6-9 months of your baby's life, you will greatly reduce the risk of your child developing vision loss. Common eye-related conditions found in babies include:
Amblyopia: Also known as “lazy eye” this is a condition where the vision in one eye is weaker than the other and is related to developmental problems in the brain. The brain favors one eye and will slowly start ignoring the signals from the weak or “lazy eye” which can lead to serious vision problems and permanent vision loss. If not treated right away, your child will be at an increased risk for permanent vision loss.
Strabismus: Also commonly known as “crossed eyes” is the misalignment of the eyes where both eyes cannot focus together on an object. It can happen all the time or be triggered by stress or if your child is sick. Strabismus can happen if your child has an eye disorder, a tumour, or they can just be born with it with no clear cause. This condition results in double vision and your child can suppress vision in a weaker eye to prevent it from happening. This can lead to amblyopia which can cause double vision and serious permanent vision problems.
What To Expect During Your Child's Eye Exam
Although your baby will not be able to contribute any “subjective” input at this age, the doctor will still be able to perform several tests that will provide information about your baby's sight. Your optometrist will first evaluate your baby's medical history to find out if certain eye conditions such as glaucoma run in the family, and they will check your baby's vision, eye structures, muscles, and movements as well. The optometrist will check your baby’s reactivity to light shone in their eyes and test if they can follow objects to check their vision. The doctor will also temporarily dilate their eyes using special eye drops that are safe for your baby and use an instrument to detect farsightedness, nearsightedness, and astigmatism. Most babies are usually slightly farsighted at birth and this will normally go away around the ages of 3-5 years old. These tests will not harm your baby or cause them discomfort.
Signs Of Eye And Vision Problems
It is very important for you as a parent to trust your instincts when it comes to your child’s eyesight, after all, you know your child the best. When your baby is born, their eyesight goes through many developmental stages up until the age of five, and if not taken seriously untreated conditions could lead to serious vision problems in the future. During this period, look out for common signs and symptoms that could signify a serious eye problem that needs immediate attention:
- Constant eye rubbing
- Poor focusing
- Extreme light sensitivity
- Abnormal alignment of the eyes
- Chronic redness in the eyes
- Chronic tearing of the eyes
What Can You Do To Help Your Child’s Vision Development
A Baby’s eyesight develops rapidly from birth through childhood since it is closely linked to their brain development. There are many activities you can do to help your child develop their vision. Here are some examples of age-appropriate activities that you can do for your baby during their first year:
Birth To 4 Months Old
- Use a nightlight or a lamp in your baby's room and alternate left and right sides during feeding. Try to talk to your baby as often as you can to stimulate their ability to follow the sound of your voice.
5 Months-8 Months
- Hang various objects over your baby’s crib so they can reach, pull, and kick towards them. Play games such as patty cake to encourage the movement of your baby’s hands along with the sound of music.
9 Months To A Year
- Roll a ball or object back and forth to help your child track objects with their eyes. Name objects when talking to encourage the baby’s word association and vocabulary developmental skills and encourage crawling.
Comprehensive Eye Exams for infants
For newborns, the first few months are a time of rapid development when it comes to their vision. Babies are not born with perfect vision but learn to see over time much like they learn to crawl and walk. Even before they learn to grasp objects and sit up, their eyes are providing stimulation and information that is important for their development. Regular eye exams for your baby can help prevent serious vision problems and ensure your child is meeting their visual milestones.
Is your child due for an eye exam? In order to ensure your child's eyes are as healthy as they can be, a comprehensive eye exam is essential to protect their eyes and their vision. My Calgary Optometrist offers Comprehensive Eye Exams for infants in NE and SE Calgary, and at Three Hills, Alberta. Contact one of our My Optometrist Calgary clinics at either 1-403-256-0606 (Health First Optometry), 1-403-291-0923 (Sunridge Vision Centre), or 1-403-443-2040 (Three Hills Optometry) and book your appointment today.
Q: Will the eye exam be invasive and hurt my child?
A: No. Infant eye exams are non-invasive and will not cause harm to your baby. All instruments and eye drops used are safe for your baby and will not cause them discomfort.
Q: What is included in an infant eye exam?
A: Most infant eye exams include vision testing, eye health evaluation, eye alignment testing, and prescription of eyewear if necessary.
Q: Do I have to tell the Optometrist about my medical history?
A: Letting your child’s optometrist know about any eye conditions you have is critical because some are hereditary and could have been passed down to your child. By letting the eye doctor know about your medical history, they will be able to detect any vision problems much faster and begin treatments early on to protect their vision.