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Questions to ask your child’s eye doctor

Mother and son with eye doctor during child's eye exam

Routine visits to the eye doctor are an important part of a healthy childhood. A comprehensive eye exam can provide valuable information about your child’s visual health and needs, which can have a long-term impact on their overall well-being. 

Asking direct questions during your child’s eye exam can give you a deeper understanding of your child’s vision system and everything it affects.

What questions should you ask your child’s eye doctor? We talked to Valerie Kattouf, All About Vision board member and pediatric vision expert, and Krista Kelly, Ph.D. of the Retina Foundation of the Southwest to get their advice.

Early childhood eye exams

Because the vision system develops in early childhood, it’s critical to have your child’s eyes checked early and as often as their eye doctor recommends.

But how can an eye doctor tell if your child needs glasses if the child is too young to talk? Dr. Kattouf explains that patients do not need to be verbal in order to receive a comprehensive eye exam. Eye doctors evaluate based on trends and other findings during the examination process.

Some parts of the exam will require a response on the parent’s behalf, so it is important to know which questions to come prepared with.

General pediatric eye exam questions

As is the case for adults, children need to maintain clear, comfortable and efficient vision.

Dr. Kattouf explained that many children have vision problems that they do not verbalize, or may not recognize because they have simply grown accustomed to them. With excessive screen time and other modern-day factors playing active roles in visual development, it’s more important than ever to monitor and maintain the well-being of your child’s eyes and vision.

Dr. Kattouf also pointed out that refractive errors (blurry vision) in children are often overlooked, and many parents may be shocked to learn that their children need vision correction, especially at young ages.

Eye doctors are able to detect issues that you or your child may not be aware of and provide guidance on how to treat them.

Some general questions Dr. Kattouf recommends asking your child’s eye doctor include:

  • Is my child showing symptoms of eye problems?

  • How do I identify symptoms that my young child is experiencing?

  • Will problems with my child's vision cause academic issues? How can I prevent this?

  • How often should my child have eye exams?

  • Does my child need glasses to correct their condition?

Though these inquiries are general, your child’s eye doctor should provide answers specific to your child’s vision needs. 

Questions about eye conditions

Treatment, as well as frequency and type of eye care appointments, will likely vary if your child has an eye condition. For example, if your child shows merely signs of refractive error but their eyes are otherwise healthy, annual eye appointments with a pediatric optometrist should suffice. However, if your child shows signs of an eye condition, such as a genetic eye disease or a developmental abnormality, they will likely need to see a pediatric ophthalmologist who will determine how often your child needs to come in.

Dr. Kelly states that “it is important for parents and families to be given knowledge about their child’s eye condition. Some eye conditions are more severe than others are, and having the right information can ease anxiety about what the future holds.”

Some questions she advises you ask regarding your child’s eye condition include:

  • What eye condition does my child have and can you write it down for me?

  • Can you explain the eye condition?

  • Does it affect one or both eyes?

  • What may have caused my child’s eye condition?

  • Was it inherited or genetic, and was it present at birth?

  • What can my child see right now?

  • Will my child’s eye condition get worse with age?

“With this knowledge, families can understand more about their child’s eye condition, determine whether to test other family members for the same condition and learn what to expect going forward,” Dr. Kelly says.

Questions regarding treatment

If your child has an eye condition, it is crucial that they get appropriate treatment.

“Treatment can include glasses, medication, surgery or patching, among other things,” Dr. Kelly says.  “Sometimes there are multiple options for treatment with equal efficacy, and sometimes other treatments are more beneficial.”

“Knowing how intensive the treatment will be, what the side effects and costs are, and whether it will be short-term or life-long, will help a family make an informed decision with their eye doctor about which treatment is best for their child,” she continues.

Here are some of the questions Kelly suggests to ask your child’s eye doctor regarding treatment:

  • What are the options for treatment?

  • How much will treatment cost?

  • How long is the treatment and how will I know if it is working?

  • Will there be any side effects?

  • Is there anything I should watch out for before the next appointment?

  • Besides treatment, what can I do to help my child’s eye condition?

  • If I need to contact you before the next appointment, what is the best way?

Additionally, make sure you gather information from legitimate sources only. Rely on advice and information from your child’s eye doctor first and foremost. For supplementary recommendations and support, search online with caution and stick to highly reputable websites; tread lightly (and ask your doctor) before following suggestions made by bloggers and other non-experts.

“With so much misinformation regarding treatment on the internet, it is important that families get their information from credible sources, especially their child’s eye doctor,” Dr. Kelly advises.

Questions to learn how conditions may affect your child

Eye conditions can have an impact on more than just your child’s vision. 

“Most often, pediatric eye conditions can cause issues for other facets of life. They can be associated with other disorders and diseases, which the doctor may refer for further evaluation,” Dr. Kelly explains. “They can also impact the development of other abilities that rely on vision, like motor skills and learning.” 

Some questions to keep in mind to help you understand how eye and vision conditions might affect your child include:

  • Are there other problems associated with this condition?

  • Are there any limitations that my child will face because of their eye condition?

  • How will this affect my child’s school work and physical activity?

  • Do you have any recommendations for organizations or groups that provide support for children with this eye condition and/or their parents?

Dr. Kelly continues: “Understanding how the eye condition will affect a child will allow the family to adjust to everyday life, and to start early with any therapies or school accommodations needed for their child to succeed.”

SEE RELATED: What is (and isn’t) vision therapy for children?

What to avoid at your child’s eye doctor appointment

While asking questions and being there for your child is important, Dr. Kattouf reminds us that there are some behaviors and interruptions you should avoid during your child’s eye appointment. 

For a smooth eye exam, parents should heed the following advice:

  • Do not interfere with your child’s responses or answer for them.

  • Let your child be honest and give natural responses to the doctor’s questions.

  • Don’t get nervous if your child has trouble during tests or reading an eye chart.

  • Do not berate your child or project fear onto them.

  • Let the eye doctor be in control, and remember that if there are any problems with your child’s vision, their doctor will identify them and provide the best information and treatment options.

Other ways to prepare for your child’s eye exam

If your child is nervous leading up to their eye exam, Dr. Kattouf explains that there are creative ways to prepare them for their appointment. Depending on their age, it’s always a good idea to describe what the appointment might involve, and encourage them that the eye doctor is there to help and that (again, depending on age and verbal capabilities) they should feel comfortable asking questions. You can even practice giving them eye drops or having them draw letters similar to what will appear on the eye chart.

Plus, there are ways you can help provide comfort during the exam as well. First, remind them that you are there with them throughout the exam. Children respond well to object fixation, so a toy or stuffed animal could help relax your child during the exam. 

To learn more about protecting your child’s vision and eye health, check out All About Vision’s ongoing coverage of Children’s Vision.

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