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Children’s eyes

Children’s eyes

Children rarely complain about their sight, but often show in their behaviour that there may be a problem with their vision. This can include sitting too close to the TV, rubbing their eyes a lot, holding objects very close to the face, blinking a lot or one eye turning either in or out. If you think your child is experiencing any sort of sight problems, take them to an ophthalmic practitioner for a check-up as soon as possible. 

All babies will have their eyes checked at birth and then at about six weeks of age by a GP or health visitor. Young children with suspected vision problems will be referred to an orthoptist, who is part of the eye care team and generally work  alongside ophthalmologists and optometrists. Orthoptists work in local health clinics or hospital eye clinics.

Once your child's vision has been checked it is important to continue with regular sight tests. Your child should have a check-up at least every two years as problems can occur at any age and even if none of the symptoms described above are displayed there could still be an underlying eye condition.

If you are concerned about your child’s vision, arrange an appointment with a local ophthalmic practitioner. They see children of any age. Many concerns can be resolved completely by the ophthalmic practitioner without the need to refer your child to a specialist such as an orthoptist or ophthalmologist. Don't worry about the costs as all NHS sight tests are free of charge for children under the age of 16. For more information see the entitlements and cost section.  

The NHS wants to ensure that all children have vision screening for lazy eye (amblyopia) during their first year at school. This is to detect whether a child has reduced vision in one or both eyes. This is important because many children will not realise that they have reduced vision, and parents will not normally be able to see it by just looking at the child. It is recommended that all children are offered screening between the ages of four and five by an orthoptist-led service to assess their vision.

The earlier any problems are picked up, the better the outcome. If you have any concerns about your child's eyes, or if there is a history of squint or lazy eye in the family, it is important that you do not wait for the vision screening at school. Take your child to an ophthalmic practitioner for a sight test.

Children do not have to be able to read to have their eyes examined. It is possible to see whether the child has a squint, or needs glasses, without asking them any questions, using age appropriate tests and equipments. Eye examinations do not hurt. It might be necessary to put drops into your child’s eyes so that they can be tested to see if they need glasses and the backs of the eyes are healthy. If this is the case for your child, it will be discussed with you in advance.

What are eyedrops used for during sight tests?

Some children, especially younger ones, might need eyedrops for their eye test. These will be given either by an ophthalmic practitioner, orthoptist or ophthalmologist. Once put in, the drops will need a while before they work. On average about 30 minutes for children with blue eyes, but it will take longer the darker the eye colour.

Eyedrops make the pupils larger so that the back of the eye can be seen properly. They also relax the focusing mechanism in the eye so that the prescription for glasses (if needed) can be as accurate as possible.

Once the drops start working your child might complain that the light is too bright. You could bring sunglasses or a brimmed hat or cap in case this happens. Some children may also feel that their vision is blurred or fuzzy. Again this is because the drops stop the focusing mechanism working. Unfortunately, it is not possible to reverse the effect of the eyedrops, but they will start to wear off after about six to 10 hours and are usually fully worn off within 16 to 24 hours.

About one in 10,000 children react to the drops with hyperactivity. This effect is only temporary and will wear off as soon as the drops wear off. If your child does have a reaction to the eyedrops, your optometrist, orthoptist or ophthalmologist should inform your GP. They will add a note to your child's medical records so that similar medications are not prescribed in future.

Page last reviewed: 09/09/2014

Next review due: 09/09/2016

Children's eyes

Remember to take your child to all their developmental checks.

Eye problems can develop at any age. Not all parents know their child has an eye problem.

If you have concerns, ask your optometrist, GP, health visitor or school nurse for advice.

Free NHS funded sight tests are available for children under 16 years of age and those aged 16 to 18 and in full-time education.

Your child's eyesight

Eye examinations are free for children and can help identify problems with their eyesight.

Sight tests for children

Find out when children need eye tests, what the test involves and why it's important.

Media last reviewed: 27/04/2015

Next review due: 27/04/2017

Childhood squint: Holly's story

A paediatric consultant explains the causes of squints, a misalignment of the eye. He describes how to identify the symptoms and the treatment options.

Media last reviewed: 18/06/2015

Next review due: 18/06/2017