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When to Test Children's Eyes

A baby's vision at age one is a good predictor of eyesight later in life

Does the fact that you wear eyeglasses doom your child to the same fate? Not necessarily. But when it comes to vision, poor parental eyesight does up the odds that a child will also need glasses, too. A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that in families where neither parent is nearsighted, the chances of a child being myopic is less than 1 in 10; if one parent is nearsighted, the odds increase to more than 1 in 5, and if both parents share the condition, the odds rise to over 2 in 5.

What's more, the M.I.T. researchers found that when a baby is nearsighted at age one, that's often a good predictor of whether the child is likely to be nearsighted at a later age. Infants who are nearsighted usually develop normal eyesight between 1 and 5 years of age, but between 6 and 12, their vision often weakens, particularly if the parents are nearsighted.

While there is no known way to improve the odds that a nearsighted infant can escape nearsightedness at an older age, the American Academy of Pediatrics nevertheless recommends that infants be checked for visual problems during their first half-year of life and that eye tests be done at least once a year during their preschool years.

Such examinations not only allow doctors to diagnose rare problems (e.g., cataracts) but also help them identify muscle problems that might cause a child to use only one eye. Early testing can also enable doctors to fit children suffering from extreme cases of nearsightedness with corrective lenses. Early intervention can spare such children frustration, ensuring a smooth transition to school.

Waiting until a child starts school to have his or her eyes tested is too late, experts say, because certain eye problems, such as strabismus or anisemetropia, if left undetected till the the age of five or six, can become permanent. If they are detected earlier, however, they are easily remedied.

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Updated on October 8, 1995