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My husband and I are both optometrists who are passionate about eye health! We have a two year old daughter who recently got her first eye exam (not by her parents). This reminded me that I wanted to share how important eye exams are for children. It also reminded me how in many areas, free infant eye exam are available. Most parents don’t even know about it! I really feel like this service is not publicized enough, so I’m hoping to change this here.
Why do infants need eye exams?
First, for a little background. The American Optometric Association recommends all asymptomatic children have their first eye exam at 6 months of age with an eye care professional. On the other hand, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends screenings throughout childhood and then a comprehensive eye exam if issues are detected. Your child’s pediatrician or an eye care professional conduct these screenings. Of course, these guidelines are for patients with no risk factors for eye disease or any other reason for an immediate referral from the pediatrician.
My Experience As A Parent
Honestly, my daughter’s pediatrician well baby visits have been less than thorough in the past. Once, I watched her (former) doctor shine a light on my daughter’s forehead while “assessing her pupils” as part of her vision screening. I was not impressed. We thus decided to take our daughter for a more comprehensive eye exam with a colleague at age 2.
If your child’s pediatrician is doing a thorough assessment at well baby visits, then I side more with ophthalmologists that a comprehensive infant eye exam with an eye doctor may not always be necessary. If your pediatrician is not doing a thorough job or you would like a more in depth evaluation, I heartily recommend an infant eye exam by an eye care professional! You really have nothing to lose with early detection of potential eye problems. The statistics of undiscovered eye disease at a young age are pretty scary. Check out these stats!
As an aside, in my geographic area, ophthalmologists do not do routine vision screenings for children so you have to see an optometrist (or pediatrician) first. If they detect an issue, they will be the one to refer to the ophthalmologist. Thus, a comprehensive eye exam for an infant that you have no ocular concerns about will most likely be done through an optometrist.
So…what does an optometrist actually look for in a routine eye exam?
- Does your baby have a high amount of nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism that needs to be corrected with glasses? Or is there a very unequal amount of these refractive errors between the two eyes?
- Is eye movement within normal limits, and are eyes aligned properly?
- Is eye health within normal limits? Are there any eye diseases detectable?
Now a little about the InfantSEE program. How can you get a free infant eye exam?
Essentially, InfantSEE is a really awesome public health program that organizes all optometrists who are willing to provide no-cost eye exams to children 6-12 months of age! To set your baby up for a no-cost eye exam (no insurance required!) with an optometrist through this program, all you need to do is visit the InfantSEE website. Enter your location to see if there are participating doctors in your area, and set up an appointment. How awesome and easy is that? Again, there really is no downside to having an early eye exam for your baby.
Some things to keep in mind:
- More populous cities are going to have more options of providers, and some areas will not have providers.
- This program exists for babies 6-12 months of age.
- These doctors will all be optometrists who can conduct comprehensive eye exams to evaluate if any problems exist. Problems found that can be corrected inside our scope of practice (for instance prescribing glasses) are resolved. Anything outside our scope of practice (for example eye alignment surgery) requires a referral to an ophthalmologist.
- This is for a screening exam only (meaning no specific complaints or concerns), and a problem-oriented exam may be billed under your medical insurance. Any treatment your child needs (such as purchasing glasses) would be a cost too.
If your area does not have an InfantSEE program, you can still check with your vision insurance or medical insurance provider to find a local eye doctor to perform an exam. This exam would be subject to copays or deductibles if you go this route of course.
So what’s the catch? Why do optometrists do infant eye exams for free?
Besides having a heart for public service, this can also be a way of bringing patients into a practice. If you like the doctor during that complimentary exam, you may become a lifetime patient! You may refer the rest of your family or your friends in the community. So don’t feel guilty about taking advantage of this service!
So…what are you waiting for? Go schedule an eye exam today for your baby, and sleep better knowing everything checks out with their vision!
Interested in kids and eyes? Check out another optometry post here about when I recommend first time contact lenses.