Why Is That Baby Wearing Glasses?

Posted on July 26, 2011 · Posted in Eye Exam, Eyeglasses, General

We recently ran into a great question over on Quora.  A concerned parent questioned how they are supposed to know if their child needs glasses and how an optometrist can even determine an accurate prescription without their child talking.

Let’s tackle the exam question first.  Believe it or not, an eye doctor can get a pretty solid idea of a person’s refractive status with minimal-to-no communication.  Diagnostic equipment like autorefractors and retinoscopes help analyze how light that enters the eye gets bent on its way back out.  Testing eye muscle balance can also give clues about a person’s prescription.  Even the way the eyes respond to having various powered lenses placed in front can help.  Communication helps refine initial impressions, but it isn’t a necessity.

But let’s explore the idea of why a young child or infant would even need glasses.  First, the majority of a young child’s world is right up close to him/her.  Picture books, Mom and Dad’s faces, toys, etc. are all right there.  They really don’t have a big need to see that sign 1/4 mile down the interstate telling them where the next Denny’s is.  So most kids at this age, even if they have a mild prescription, don’t need glasses.

Then what’s the point of an eye exam, you ask?  Three main goals:

  1. Make sure the eyes are healthy and developing properly
  2. Make sure the eyes are aligned properly
  3. Make sure there’s not a large imbalance in prescription.  Said differently: make sure that there isn’t a large prescription in one eye and not the other.

Numbers 2 and 3 are of critical importance at this point in development as the visual system is still forming and capable of easier improvements than later in life.  Left untreated, deficiencies in eye alignment or clarity in one eye can lead to the condition called amblyopia, or “lazy eye”.  In other words, catching numbers 2 and 3 early and correcting with glasses can often help a child avoid amblyopia.

The best advice for parents is to take your kids to an eye doctor as soon as you are comfortable doing so, preferably between the ages of 6 months and 2 years.  Few things are more important to their development than a healthy, properly functioning pair of eyes.

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