Baby getting an eye examOne in 10 infants in the U.S. has an undetected vision problem which, if left untreated, can lead to developmental delays, permanent vision problems, and in rare cases, life-threatening health risks. But only 18 percent of parents who participated in the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) 2011 American Eye-Q® survey report taking their infant to an eye doctor for a comprehensive assessment before the child’s first birthday.

According to the AOA’s American Eye-Q® survey, most parents know that lazy eye (61 percent) and crossed eyes (63 percent) can be detected in infants, but fewer than one-third were aware that cancer, farsightedness, and nearsightedness may also be detected during an infant exam

Although vision and eye-health problems aren’t common in infants, it’s important to identify specific risk factors early so issues can be addressed before they negatively affect a child’s development and quality of life.

Look at This

Traditional eye chart testing requires identification of letters or symbols and demands sustained attention, so it’s impossible to use with infants and toddlers. Instead, eye doctors assess whether an infant can fix his eyes on an object and follow it, or identify targets with decreasing contrast.

Family health history is also important. An eye doctor will want to know about the parents’ vision problems as well as the broader family’s eye and medical history and developmental history. Factors that may indicate a baby is at risk for visual impairment include:

  • Premature birth, low birth weight, or oxygen used following birth
  • Difficult or assisted labor, which may be associated with fetal distress or low APGAR scores
  • Family history of eye diseases such as retinoblastoma (eye cancer), congenital cataracts, or metabolic or genetic disease
  • Drug or alcohol use during pregnancy

Free Eye Care

An infant’s visual development is critical between 6 and 12 months of age. Therefore, InfantSEE®, a year-round public health program developed by Optometry Cares®—The AOA Foundation, and Vistakon, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, Inc., provides professional eye care for infants nationwide at no cost, regardless of family income, insurance, or number of eligible children.

InfantSEE® assessments complement the routine well-care exams a baby receives from a pediatrician or family physician. Eye doctors have the training to identify areas of risk that are critical to vision development and the skills to identify conditions that might not be detected in a routine pediatric wellness exam. In some cases, conditions may need to be monitored, immediately treated, or referred to a pediatric eye specialist. 

The AOA recommends that a child’s first eye exam take place at 6 months of age. Unless problems are detected, the next exam should be at age 3, again before entering school, and then yearly.

For more about InfantSEE® visit  their website or call toll free 888-396-EYES (3937).