Just like all the other parts of your baby’s body, their eyes are quickly growing and developing during the first few years of their life. The Canadian Association of Optometrists recommends that a baby visits the optometrist for the first time at 6 months of age for an eye exam. I personally recommend any time between 6 and 9 months but earlier if you think there may be a problem.
In Ontario, OHIP covers children’s eye exams so there is no fee for your baby’s first visit to the optometrist. If you have ever been to the optometrist before you may remember that we ask you to read the eye chart, ask you to choose lenses that make things look clearer and have you sit behind the microscope (slit lamp) to check the health of your eyes. Your baby’s first visit is very different. Instead of asking a baby to read the letters on the eye chart, we show them patterns and watch how they react to see how good their vision is. We find out how well they focus by shining a light in their eyes and looking at the reflection in their pupil, this takes the place of asking adults if they like lens 1 or 2 better. We make sure your baby has healthy eyes by looking inside with lenses and our ophthalmoscopes.
Luckily, the majority of babies I have seen have had perfectly developing eyes. Unfortunately there are a few problems that can affect babies. Rarely, a baby can be born with cataracts which need to be removed as soon as possible. Some babies have an eye turn (strabismus) which may require patching, glasses, vision therapy or surgery to correct. A lazy eye can develop in a baby if one of their eyes focuses perfectly and the other one doesn’t; usually glasses and patching and/or vision therapy can correct this if it is caught when the baby is young. Some babies have something called a nasolacrimal duct obstruction which causes them to tear a lot and put them at a higher risk for eye infections.
I always suggest parents to bring their baby’s in for their first visits during a time of the day that the baby is awake, so not close to nap time. Finally I’d like to remind you that it’s never too young to start wearing sunglasses and a sun hat!