Children with immediate family members who had significant vision issues before elementary school should see an eye doctor by their first birthday, Penn State Health recommends.
And kids with a remote family history of early eye problems should be seen for the first time between ages 3 and 5. Once they enter school, they should have annual eye exams.
Dr. Amanda Ely, an ophthalmologist at Penn State Health Eye Center, says it’s important for parents to follow up with any recommendations from those appointments so problems don’t go undiagnosed or untreated.
“The eyes are very important and they are hard to diagnose,” she says. “When they come in late for care, there is only so much you can do. The sooner we can get to them, the better.”
Pediatricians may refer children early in life, but parents can also pick up on potential problems if they notice their child having trouble with vision or depth perception. “Maybe they have a wandering eye or you notice they are always sitting too close to the TV,” Ely says.
The red reflex in the eye that sometimes appears in photos can also be a useful tool for picking up on eye problems.
“It’s probably one of the best ways to pick up on irregularities,” Ely says. If an eye isn’t red, or shows white, dull or dark, it may indicate anything from a need for glasses to a detached retina or tumor.
When it comes to protecting young eyes, Ely recommends sunglasses for even the youngest children.
“They are especially important for lighter-colored eyes because more sun penetrates them and can cause secondary cancers or macular degeneration,” she says.
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