Optometrists are university-trained health professionals whose main job is assessing, diagnosing and treating eye conditions. If your child has eye or vision problems, an optometrist can work out what the problem is and how best to treat it.
Optometrists do special tests and use special equipment to check how well the eyes see, how well they work together and how healthy they are.
An optometrist can check the eyes of babies as young as 6-12 months of age. When optometrists work with children who aren’t yet reading, they often try to make the eye check fun.
Optometrists work in either private practices or retail shopping centre practices. They often refer patients to ophthalmologists for more serious medical conditions or eye injuries.
Good vision is essential to your child’s overall development. If there are concerns about your child’s vision, an optometrist can help you understand your child’s condition and treatment. With the support and expertise of health professionals like optometrists, you can help your child thrive.
Why your child might see an optometrist
It’s a good idea to take your child to see an optometrist before they start school and every 2 years after that.
This helps to make sure your child’s eyes are developing properly, even if you aren’t concerned about your child’s vision. Also, regular checks can pick up eye problems that children either don’t know about or can’t describe.
It’s also a good idea to take your child to an optometrist if you have a family history of poor vision or notice any of the following.
- has trouble seeing – for example, your child can’t see words clearly in a book, complains about seeing double, or closes one eye to see or read better
- has eye problems like frequent blinking or squinting
- complains of headaches or eye discomfort like blurry vision or watery, itchy, burning eyes
- seems to be sensitive to light
- is rubbing their eyes more than usual.
- can’t see the whiteboard clearly at school and copies from the student sitting next to them
- has trouble with homework – for example, your child struggles with it or takes a long time to finish it
- has trouble reading or loses the place while reading
- has trouble concentrating or staying ‘on task’
- has literacy difficulties
- has messy handwriting
- avoids activities that need close vision like reading or homework, or those that need distance vision like sport.
Problems in everyday life
- is clumsy – for example, they bump into things or knocks things over
- has poor hand-eye coordination
- holds books very close to their eyes or sits very close to the TV
- tilts their head noticeably to one side.
Some eye problems in children can be prevented or treated if they’re picked up early.
If it turns out that your child has low vision or blindness, is short-sighted or long-sighted, or has astigmatism, your child might need prescription glasses or contact lenses. Your optometrist will let you know. Sometimes your child might need treatment only for a while. For example, they might need to do eye exercises for a few months.
You don’t need a GP referral to see an optometrist but your GP is always a good place to start if you’re worried about your child’s health or development. Your GP can also help you decide about seeing an optometrist and help you find someone who’s right for your child. You can also go to Good Vision For Life to find a local optometrist.
Before going to an optometrist
If you, your GP or your child’s teacher thinks that your child needs a vision check, it’s a good idea to find out about things like the following beforehand:
- Appointments: what’s the best way to make an appointment – phone, online or app?
- Is there anything you can do while you’re waiting for the appointment? For example, can your child start some treatment or therapy?
- Costs: most optometrists bulk bill eye tests if you have a Medicare card, which means they’re free. Children and teenagers are eligible for 1 bulk-billed test every 3 years or sometimes more frequently. If your optometrist charges an extra fee, Medicare can still cover some of the cost. Medicare doesn’t cover the costs of glasses and contact lenses, but private health insurance might.
- Locations: find out where you have to go to see the optometrist.
- Qualifications: optometrists in Australia must be registered with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). This means they’ve met all requirements for working as an optometrist in Australia.
Before the appointment, it’s also a good idea to write down any questions you have for the optometrist, so you don’t forget.
When you make an appointment for your child, it’s a good idea to make it for a time when your child is likely to be relaxed and happy and not frustrated or tired. This could be first thing in the morning or after a day sleep.