My husband wears glasses, so I’ve always been conscious of whether my children will have good vision or not. A few months ago, I noticed my son sitting closer and closer to the television, and I thought it was time to book in for that first test. We asked experts in the field, Specsavers, to tell us what to expect. 

GOOD vision is essential to a child’s development as so much of what they learn is taken in through their eyes.

So it is never too soon to start your child’s eyecare. They do not have to be able to read to determine how good their vision is – the optometrist has lots of other fun ways to test youngsters’ sight.

You will find that most infants and pre-school children have regular vision screening as part of their routine developmental checks. These early tests are invaluable, but are not as thorough as a full eye examination by a qualified optometrist.

When your child is born, the paediatrician will check their vision when they are still in the hospital ward. It is very rare for there to be any problem with a newborn’s vision. A newborn’s eye is about 75% of the size of an adult eye, and it will continue to develop for the first two years of life.

Specsavers advises that children should have their first eye examination at around three years old. Learning difficulties can sometimes be caused by uncorrected vision problems, so the earlier they can be detected, the better the chance of correcting them.

What’s more, at Specsavers the test is designed to be friendly and fun for kids of all ages.

Inside the test room

The optometrist will use various techniques to suit your child’s stage of development. They will test the vision of each eye and check whether they work properly together. They can assess which kind of lenses, if any, are needed without your child having to answer questions. Looking into each eye with an instrument called a retinoscope measures their ability to focus. There are special charts for young children who don’t know their alphabet and opticians also use shapes, picture books and other materials to help children indicate what they can see and how clearly.

At the end of your child’s eye examination the optician will discuss the results with you, answer any questions you may have, and explain any prescription your child needs. Even is glasses are not needed, they will recommend regular appointments, so that assessments can be made throughout the growing years.

Children’s eye problems

If the optician says that your child needs glasses, this does not mean that there is something seriously wrong. It is usually just that they need help to focus.

In childhood the most common eye problems are long or short sight, astigmatism, colour blindness, a lazy eye, or a squint. Many of these can be corrected if they are treated soon enough.

Astigmatism – the front surface of the eye is irregularly curved, resulting in distorted vision. You can have astigmatism as well as long or short sight.

Colour blindness – difficulty in differentiating between certain colours, such as red and green. Usually runs in the family and is more common in boys.

Lazy eye – one does not work as well as the other. Also known as ambylopia, it occurs when an eye does not learn how to see, because of a fault in co-ordination or focusing. It usually occurs before a child is five.

Squint – the two eyes do not look in exactly the same direction. Toddlers can seem to squint because of a small fold of skin between their eyes and the bridge of their nose. If this does not change as the child grows, consult your optician. Squinting eyes can be corrected through prescription glasses, special eye exercises or surgery.

Choosing Children’s Glasses

Children’s glasses are strong, hard-wearing and attractive. Specsavers stocks a selection of baby glasses which can be worn by newborns up to the age of one. Thereafter they are more 60 children’s frames to choose from, featuring the likes of Star Wars, Lego, Spiderman, Garfield and Disney characters in the designs. There are both metal and plastic frames in a variety of shapes and sizes, in bright colours or pastels – something for everyone. They are specially designed to fit properly and many include one or more extra features to make them comfortable, easy and safe to wear:

  • Plastic lenses instead of glass
  • Flexible hinges for added durability and better long-term fit
  • Soft one-piece nose pads which cushion the glasses across the bridge – ideal for small noses

The optician will advise which are the most suitable.

Care tips:

  • Remove glasses carefully using both hands
  • Do not put glasses down on the lens surface
  • Keep lenses clean and free from smears
  • Use special lens cleaner to clean frames rather than soapy water as this can leave residue and eventually corrode frame

Questions and answers

Does the eye examination hurt?

No. Most children think it is great fun.

How much do I have to pay?

Eye examinations for children are paid for by the NHS up to the age of 16, or 19 if they are in full-time education. If children need glasses they are entitled to NHS help with the cost. And at Specsavers, all children’s glasses styles are free with an NHS voucher.

Can children have their eyes tested if they can’t read?

Yes. Opticians can use various special methods and equipment, and have special charts, shapes, picture books and other materials for children who don’t know their alphabet.

If a child needs glasses does that mean they’ll have to wear them for the rest of their life?

Not necessarily. Some conditions improve if they are corrected at an early age.  

This article was written by Specsavers’ director of clinical services Paul Carroll BSc (Hons) MCOptom MBA

To contact Specsavers or to view the children’s range of frames available, please visit Specsavers.