Children's eye tests

All babies in the UK have their eyes checked at birth, but it's important to take your child for regular eye tests to spot any potential problems before they develop.

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It's recommended that children are tested by an optometrist before they start school and start learning to read. This is because during the first 12 years of their lives, as much as 80% of learning is achieved through vision. The earlier a problem is detected, the more chance there is of successful treatment.


Why should I take my child for an eye test?

One in every four children has an undetected vision problem that may inhibit their progress.

When your child reaches school age, it's important to take them for an eye test to make sure they do not have any refractive problems. Untreated, these can lead to chronic headaches and academic underachievement.

If your child starts to display changes in their behaviour - such as squinting, excessive blinking, sitting too close to the TV, having difficulty playing games or holding objects too close to their face -  it could be indicative of a problem with their vision.

"DS had an eye test at about seven months as I was worried about a squint and I am very short sighted so wanted to check things early. He's been having sight tests every six months (is nearly six now) and so far no problems. He also had one in reception at school." IdrisTheDragon

Children who have sensorineural hearing impairments, neurodevelopmental disorders (such as Down's Syndrome) or a family history of childhood onset ophthalmic disorder (such as retinoblastoma) are considered high-risk, so should be observed and taken for regular check-ups. 

"A lot of eye conditions are treatable if caught early, so I would definitely take your DS to see a qualified optician. My daughter has eye problems and the hospital sees her regularly. They are free, so it's better to be safe, in my opinion." carol3 


How often should I get my child's eyes checked?

According to the NHS, you should have a check-up at least every two years as problems can occur at any age. Even if none of the symptoms described above are displayed there could still be an underlying eye condition.


Do schools provide free eye tests? 

Some schools provide free eye tests, which can give an indication if your child needs to visit an optician for further testing. However, these are not full eye tests, so it is important to visit an optician or optometrist for a full check-up even if the results are positive. 


How much does an eye test cost?

Eye checks by optometrists are free to children under 16, or for children aged 16 to 18 and in full time education. If your child needs glasses, they may qualify for a selected range of free NHS glasses.

""I paid nothing for the test and nothing for the glasses. We have also had free replacements when DD has broken her glasses."Blandmum


What happens at an eye test?

During an eye test, the optometrist will examine your child's eyes using a series of tests to establish the quality of your child's vision and overall eye health. A comprehensive eye test usually takes around half an hour.

Children do not have to be able to read for an eye test. The optician will ask if there are any eyesight problems in the family and if you have experienced your child having difficulty with seeing things.

""My DS had an eye test when he was four - he had to have drops put in and then wait for them to work which took about 30/45 minutes, then the actual eye test took maybe 15 minutes. I would recommend taking some sunglasses with you for [the child] because my DS's eyes were very sensitive for a few hours after."

It might be necessary to use eye drops during your child's examination. If this is the case, it will be discussed with you in advance. The drops make the pupils larger so the back of the eye can be seen more easily. The eye drops take about 30 minutes to take effect. Some children may feel that their vision is blurred or fuzzy. This is because the drops stop the focusing mechanism working. The effects will start to wear off after about six to ten hours and usually wear off fully within 16 to 24 hours.

The following equipment is used as part of the test:

A non-contact tonometer measures the pressure inside eyes by blowing a puff of air into each eye in turn. It's used to find out if there are any underlying eye conditions, such as glaucoma (conditions which cause optic nerve damage).

An autorefractor electronically examines how well the eyes focus by giving a reading of the eye's visual acuity. It is used to find out if prescription glasses are needed

A retinoscope is used to determine long sightedness or short sightedness. It measures a refractive error in the eye by bouncing a beam of light off the back of the eye to determine the prescription needed to correct the sight.

tumblin e chartA test chart is used to check eyesight by reading letters off a board descending from largest to smallest, while looking through different lenses, to establish the visual accuracy of your sight.

For young children who cannot read, letters can be replaced with a 'tumbling E' chart. All the characters on the chart are a capital letter 'E' at various 90 degree rotations. The optician asks the child being tested to show which direction the E is facing using their fingers.

An ophthalmoscope is used to examine the retina at the back of the eye, including the blood vessels and the front of the optic nerve. This can help detect underlying conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.

A fixation disparity test (aka oxo box) is used to see how well the eyes work together and if any correction is needed to balance or co-ordinate the eyesight. Looking at bars on a panel, the patient has to judge whether the bars are in line.

A slit lamp is an illuminated microscope used to examine the outer surface of the eyes so the optician can look at the condition of the cornea, sclera, conjunctiva, iris and lens.

A visual field screener is used to find out the field of vision and establish if there are any blind spots. Looking at a spot in the centre of the machine, the patient has to respond to flashing lights around the target.

The optician will explain the test procedures as they are taking place and tell you how your child's eyes are responding. Once the test is finished, you will have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the results.


How do I prepare my child for an eye test?

When making the appointment, briefly describe any concerns you have for your child's sight.

If your child already wears glasses, bring them to the test. It is also advisable to bring sunglasses with you as pupils are dilated during the test, which can cause light sensitivity afterwards.

At the eye test you will be asked questions about your child's vision, so it is good to come prepared to give your optician an understanding of your child's visual health. You may be asked the following questions:

  • Is your child experiencing any eye problems?
  • Has your child had any eye problems in the past?
  • Does your child wear glasses or contact lenses now? If so, are they satisfied with them?
  • What health problems has your child had in recent years?
  • Is your child taking any medication?
  • Has your child ever had eye surgery?
  • Was your child born prematurely?
  • Does anyone in your family have eye problems, such as macular degeneration or glaucoma?
  • Does your child or does anyone in your family have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease or any other health problems that can affect the whole body?




Last updated: almost 3 years ago