Visual Screening & Eye Examinations

Newborn babies arrive equipped with wonderful abilities to see and hear. Although their vision is not as sharp as that of an adult, newborn babies show responses to adult faces in the earliest days of life. Babies also have remarkable responses to sounds. They startle with loud noises and quiet with their mother's voice. Sometimes, babies have problems with vision. These problems may be due to a birth defect or may be caused by the effects of prematurity, neurological problems, genetic disorders or other diseases.

Since many eye problems occur at an early age, it is important that your child receives eye examinations and visual screening tests. Vision problems can lead to visual loss, developmental problems and learning disabilities. Monitoring your child's ability to see is an important factor in the health of your growing child.

Vision Problems

  • About 5-10% of preschoolers have vision problems
  • About 10% of school-aged children have vision problems
  • Without proper screening, vision problems may not be detected and permanent loss of vision may occur

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors may increase your child's risk of having some problems with their vision:

  • Maternal infections while pregnant
  • Premature infant
  • Heart disease in the infant
  • Problems with the actual structure of the eye present at birth (e.g., amblyopia, strabismus, cataracts)
  • Family history of problems with vision
  • Hearing problems
  • Trauma to the eye

When Eye Exams are Needed

A child's brain develops more rapidly than an adult’s brain. Any problems a child may experience with their vision may disrupt the development of visual pathways to the brain. A critical stage of visual development occurs between birth and 4 months old, when the brain must receive clear visual messages from both eyes. The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have recommended the following screening stages:

  • Newborn: All newborns are examined in the nursery for eye infections, abnormal light reflexes and other eye disorders (such as cataracts).
  • Six months: Visual screening of infants should be performed during the well-baby visits, particularly checking for how the eyes work together.
  • Three to four years: Formal visual acuity tests and a complete eye examination should be performed.
  • Five years and older: Annual visual screening tests by a pediatrician and eye examinations as necessary.

Children often cannot tell you when they are having problems with their vision. Visual screening helps to identify children who may need further eye examinations and testing. Treatments are more successful when the vision problem has been detected at an earlier stage. Always discuss eye examinations and visual screening with your child's physician.