In partnership with Pearle Vision.
Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
Both of my boys — ages 4 and 10 — get vision screenings at their school every year, and (knock on wood) they’ve never had any eye problems. But given that much of my family needed glasses at an early age (I myself was 10 when I got my first pair of specs), I figured it might be time to have their eyes examined by a specialist.
And boy, was I glad I did.
It turns out, an optometrist exam* is a whole lot more comprehensive than a typical vision screening. Optometrists don’t just test your visual acuity (sharpness of vision), but also the overall health of your eyes, eye alignment, and other stuff you wouldn’t even think of having tested, like 3-D and color vision.
Plus, according to the doctor I saw, parents are strongly advised to schedule yearly optometrist exams for their children starting at preschool age — whether or not their kid complains of vision problems. (Who knew?)
Still, I admit I was a little nervous going into the appointment. I know that eye doctor visits aren’t usually very invasive (although the “eye puff” done during my yearly glaucoma screening always gives me the heebie-jeebies!). But the procedures were new to both of my kids, and I wanted to make sure they’d feel comfortable.
Luckily, my fears quickly flew out the window, thanks to the sweet and calming demeanor of Dr. Maria Katsev, an optometrist at our local Pearle Vision office in Brooklyn, New York. As a mom of three herself, Dr. Katsev knew how to instantly put them at ease. She explained everything she was going to do before she did it, and somehow managed to make it all feel fun and interesting.
After asking about the general health of each child, and whether they showed any symptoms of visual disturbances (such as headaches, squinting to see, needing to sit close to the TV or chalkboard, or bumping into things frequently), we got right into the exam.
The first procedure required the use of a machine called an autorefractor, which I learned tests your child’s visual acuity. It can also calculate a child’s corrective lens prescription, if needed. This test requires the child to rest their chin on a little ledge (so they don’t move their head around too much) and focus where the eye doctor tells them to.
I could see how kids might feel a little uncomfortable with this procedure, especially if they’re intimidated by the size of the big machine, but there’s nothing invasive about it at all. If presented as simply a machine that helps the doctor look at your eye (emphasizing “look” and not “touch”!), it shouldn’t be a problem.
Dr. Katsev gave my kids multiple “re-dos” if they looked in the wrong direction or whatnot, and her gentle laughs along the way definitely helped keep the mood relaxed.
The next part of the exam included the traditional vision test that we’ve all taken at some point or another: you look at a letter chart in the distance, cover one eye, and read out what you see. Dr. Katsev also did a test to check my kids’ far-sightedness, which she told me is actually one of the most common vision problems among young children.
Next followed a few other simple tests — none of which required machines, and all of which were pretty fun for the kids. For one of them, the doctor asked each child to follow the movement of a pen so she could check the alignment of their eyes. (At one point, each kid looked a bit cross-eyed and we all had a good chuckle about that.) There were also tests for 3-D vision — using adorable 3-D glasses both my kids got a kick out of — as well as a check of each child’s color vision.
Finally, it was time for the doctor to examine my kids’ overall eye health, which she explained could detect potential problems that basic visual screenings could not. Since it was the first visit for both of my kids, Dr. Katsev said it might also be prudent to dilate their pupils, which would allow her to more clearly see the inside of their eyes for a baseline reading.
But when my son found out it meant eye drops (i.e., something entering his eye), he turned white as a sheet. Dr. Katsev told us that we could save it for next time since he had no other eye issues.
Instead, the doctor said she could get a pretty clear picture of the overall health of my kids’ eyes by taking some high-definition photos. And while this apparently involves a pretty massive machine — focused right into a kid’s eyeballs — both my kids were relaxed by this point, and totally fine with it.
When all was said and done, Dr. Katsev told me that both my kids have very healthy eyes, and at least at this point, have no need for corrective lenses. Yay!
Still, I wanted some advice on how to prepare my older son for eye dilation at his next appointment. Dr. Katsev’s best suggestion was pretty simple: for kids who feel apprehensive about eye procedures, parents should talk things through beforehand, calmly explaining the procedures to their child step by step.
She also said that it’s her policy never to force a child who is truly terrified of a procedure. If it was medically urgent, she would refer us to an ophthalmologist, whose office might have things like a wall full of TV’s to distract a nervous child.
Nowadays, Dr. Katsev sees more kids needing glasses than ever before. She told me she believes that she treats more “environmental-induced prescriptions” as a result of our collective reliance on technology. And it makes sense if you think about it: our kids are staring at screens more than they ever have before.
From now on, I am going to have my kids follow the “20/20 rule” — for every 20 minutes your kids are staring at technology, have them look away for 20 seconds to rest their eyes. It’s such a simple trick, but totally genius, right?
I’m also going to make it a point to never miss another yearly exam for my kids, in the same way we wouldn’t miss a pediatrician check-up or dental exam.
Dr. Katsev told me she frequently treats cases where kids’ visions problems have gone undetected for years, and said she thinks this can have major impact, particularly when it comes to their schooling.
I’ll be the first to admit I had no clue how important eye exams are for kids — and not just the ones who end up needing glasses. But one thing’s for sure: I’ll definitely be taking my kids for another exam next year, and making sure they practice good preventative care in the meantime. It’s too important to ignore, and too simple not to act on.
*Eye exams available by Independent Doctors of Optometry at or next to Pearle Vision in most states. Doctors in some states are employed by Pearle Vision.