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Vision Screening Guidelines by Age

Not sure when you need to see an eye doctor? The American Academy of Ophthalmology has recommendations for necessary vision screenings by age group: 

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Baby sleeping.
Even newborns need a vision screening!

Newborns & Infants

It's very important that young children receive the suggested eye screenings listed below. When your baby is born, her eyes and vision system aren't fully formed yet. Neither is her brain. She needs to see clearly out of both eyes in order for her brain to develop properly.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus recommend the following check-ups for your baby's vision:

  • At birth. All newborn babies need what's called a "red reflex test." When light reflects off the retina, it shows up red. This is why you see "red eye" in some photographs! If the "red reflex" isn't there, it means the eye's lens is clouded. If your baby was premature or your family has a history of vision problems, your doctor may want to do more than the "red reflex" test.
  • 6 months - 1 year. Sometime between 6 months and 1 year, your baby needs another vision screening just to make sure both eyes are developing properly and sensing depth appropriately.

Preschool & School Age

Cute little girl smiling at the camera.
She needs vision screening before preschool.

As your child gets ready for preschool, it's time to make sure she's sensing depth and that her eyes are focusing normally on objects near and far.

  • Age 3. Between the age of 3 and 3 and a half, your child needs another vision screening. This time, your pediatrician or eye doctor should try to test your child's ability to see (called "visual acuity") at near, far, and middle distances. It's normal for your child to see more clearly at far distances than near distances, but overall, you should notice your child's eyes focusing and adjusting properly. Your child only needs to see a licensed ophthalmologist if you or your pediatrician notice any problems at this stage, such as inability to focus, a lazy eye, or eyes that don't align.
  • Age 5.When it's time for school, it's time for another vision screening. This can often be performed by the school nurse or your family pediatrician. If your child is nearsighted, this is a good time to catch it. You'll want to make sure your child can see the chalkboard in her new classroom!

Adults: 40 & Under

Smiling man wearing glasses.
If you haven't had your eyes checked by age 40, make an appointment!

If you made it through childhood and your school years without needing glasses, congratulations! But you're not out of the woods yet. The American Academy of Ophthalmology has a new recommendation that every adult without any previous vision problems or eye conditions get a vision screening at age 40.

  • Age 40. This is a critical point in the aging process, when an eye doctor may be able to catch future problems early. Even if you can read a clock from across the room, you still need to go in for a checkup and get a clean bill of eye health. What kinds of things might an ophthalmologist be looking for? He's looking for things like early-stage ocular tumors, cataracts, glaucoma, restricted bloodflow in the eye, and signs of diseases that can often be detected just by looking at the eye, such as diabetes or hypertension. In the year 2000, the American Academy of Ophthalmology estimates that 2.22 million people had glaucoma (primary open-angle)...and at least 1 million of them didn't even know it!

Adults: 60 & Under

Woman with glasses and grey hair.
Your vision changes a lot in your 40s and 50s.

This is a critical time for you in terms of monitoring your vision. Did you know...by age 65, 1 in 3 Americans will have an eye disease that impairs their vision? 1 in 3. Is there anything you can do to stop this? Of course there is—you can visit your ophthalmologist regularly after the age of 40. These visits help spot problems early, so you can treat things like cataracts, glaucoma, or macular degeneration before they become severe.

  • Every 2 years. From age 40-60, your vision is likely to change...a lot. Close readings tasks (magazines, computer screens, etc.) may become noticeably more difficult. It's normal, and it's called "presbyopia." The American Optometric Association notes that you also may need more light when you read, notice more glare, have more trouble distinguishing between colors, or produce fewer tears. These are all normal. What isn't normal is seeing more floaters than you used to, losing peripheral vision, seeing straight lines as wavy lines, or experiencing changes in how clearly you can see. If you have any of these conditions, make an appoint with an optometrist or ophthalmologist soon.
  • Every year, if you have any of the following: diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, thyroid problems, or immediate family members with glaucoma or macular degeneration. 

Adults: 65+

Senior woman smiling outdoors.
See your eye doctor every year or two.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends you see an eye doctor every year or two, depending on your eye health. Vision insurance can help pay for these regular exams, but if you need more help, the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology offers free and low-cost exams to seniors who qualify. (Learn more here.)

  • Every 2 years, if you've had no vision problems up to this point. Every time you go in for an exam, your ophthalmologist will be looking for things like glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy. Even if you were all-clear after your last visit, it's important to keep up a steady schedule of check-ups. According to the Beaver Dam Eye Study, the incidence of cataracts among people aged 55-64 was 33% (early) and 6% (late). Those percentages jumped to 37% (early) and 52.17% (late) once study participants aged past 75. You want to be sure to catch something like that as early as possible.
  • Every year, if you have any vision problems. If you already have one of the conditions listed above, your ophthalmologist will want to make sure you're being treated as effectively as possible. This means coming in for more frequent check-ups and treatment, if needed.

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Sources:
EyeSmart: Eye Health Information from the American Academy of Ophthalmology
University of California, San Diego: A Practical Guide to Clinical Medicine
American Optometric Association
Office of Disease Prevent and Health Promotion: Screening for Visual Impairment


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