Ruby Visits the Optician

With the summer holidays drawing to a close very soon, we follow little Ruby as she visits our St. Leonards store for her first sight exam before she starts school.

We're often asked how early a child can have their vision tested and the simple answer is that they're never too young to visit the optician. We thoroughly recommend that children have their eyes tested before they start school - serious vision problems in children are rare, but testing their vision early ensures that any potential problems are picked up and managed as early as possible. Healthy vision is important to help your child can learn at school.

Did you know that up to 1 million children in the UK currently struggle with an undetected problem with their vision. Is your child part of this number?

Source: The Eyecare Trust

How can we test a child's vision?

Children may not realise that they have a problem with their vision. They know no different, so how could they? Therefore, without routine eye examinations, there is a great risk that any problems could remain undiagnosed for months or even years. Obviously younger children could struggle to answer the questions asked in an adult's sight exam, so the procedure is slightly different for young children.

The optometrist will still check the inside of the eye using an ophthalmoscope but other parts of the examination are very picture-led. Ruby was asked to tell the optometrist when the clown was sticking out his tongue. The clown's nose would change colour occasionally and Ruby would have to say what colour. This is purely to make sure she was still paying attention and watching for the clown's tongue! Ruby's eyes were covered individually for parts of the exam to see if one was stronger than the other.

"Children may not realise that they have a problem with their vision. Without routine eye examinations, there is a risk that any problems could remain undiagnosed for years" Some of the test charts used for children's sight exams are a little different to the ones you're used to seeing - so it doesn't matter if your child cannot read yet. They may be asked to point to a card and say which pictures they can see on the screen.

Ruby knew the letters in her name so she was also shown these letters on screen to see if she could recognise them at a distance.

Retinal Photography for Children

Retinal photography is of course available and recommended for children. A high resolution image of the back of the eye is captured, giving the optometrist the ability to see features of the eye which are not visible using traditional methods. Another photo can then be taken at the next examination and the photos compared side-by-side to show any changes since the last examination.


Ruby did really well in her first sight examination, and proudly shows off the sticker she received for being so good!


Some younger children may find the prospect of visiting the optician a little daunting, whilst others will find it an exciting trip out. Learning good habits for life is the key, if your children are used to regular sight examinations, it will become normal and at the same time maintain healthy eyes over the years.

For older children, any of the following signs could indicate vision problems:

  • Complaints of headaches or possibly eye strain
  • Eyes not pointing in the same direction
  • Difficulty readingĀ (are they holding books very close to their face?)
  • Extra clumsy (bumping into things regularly)
  • Hand/eye co-ordination issues
  • Rubbing their eyes regularly
  • Skipping words or whole lines of text

Read more about eye care for children in our Eyes on Learning article. Remember that the sight test is funded under the NHS up until the age of 16 (or 19 if in full-time eductaion). See further NHS eligibility criteria here.

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