The pandemic has thrown all of us for a loop and required us to delay, change or cancel many plans in the last year. Like many families, my kids were all due for their eye doctor check ups last March - naturally, the week after the lockdown was announced. I postponed their appointments until it seemed a bit safer to enter an office. I finally decided it was time this fall and took all three kids one morning. Now that we’ve been living with this virus for a while, I felt very safe with the precautions the doctor and his staff had in place and was happy to check this important task off of our to-do list.
If you haven’t been to the eye doctor in a while, or haven’t taken your kids yet, you may be surprised by some of the new offerings now available. For example, I was surprised that the nurse used a spray, rather than drops, to dilate the kids’ pupils. This was a much easier method of dilation as the kids didn’t have to keep their eyes open - the spray penetrates the lid and enters the eye even when closed. Dilating the eye is known as the “gold standard” of eye exams, giving the doctor the best view of the retina, as the pupils widen and more light is let in. It is a bit uncomfortable, but if kids can keep calm and not cry the drops out, it is pretty quick. Although, keep in mind that the blurriness and light sensitivity can last for a few hours afterward and this may not be convenient for after school sport activities.
Appointments at the eye doctor can be lengthy depending on how the practice operates. It generally takes 20-30 mins for the eyes to dilate, so you may want to bring a lovey/comfort object for the little ones and some kind of game (ie something with questions to distract the older ones) while you wait. Some offices offer the option of taking a photograph of the eye rather than dilating with drops - at my eye doctor appointment this fall, the eye doctor used a machine called an Optomap to look at my retinas. This appointment was the first time I have seen the doctor take photos of the inside of my kids’ eyes before and after dilation. We waited in our own room as the staff kept everyone in the office separated as much as possible. We then entered the eye office together for the actual exam.
During the exam, in addition to their vision (using eye charts with letters, shapes etc.), the doctor also looked at each child’s field of vision, eye alignment, and color and depth perception. Your appointment time may be slightly longer due to Covid-19 protocols, but in our experience, that was generally due to pre-appointment paperwork and temperature checks.
Here are a few tips and takeaway that may be helpful to you and your families:
There’s no rhyme or reason to eye health in terms of what we inherit and it’s entirely impossible to predict. My kids have completely different eye issues and there is no way to know why! They also are on three different timelines of when they need to see the eye doctor next...one will need to return in a few months, while another will come back in a year and the other, not for four years!
Kids do not like to be wrong. I could see the one with the least amount of experience at the eye doctor peeking a bit to be able to see letters better from behind the paddle blocking his eye. This is natural and it may be helpful to prepare the child that there are no wrong answers and to just do their best.
Eye health is so important and affects so much of the way we see and experience the world. While it may be a bit more of a wait to get an appointment and take longer while you are there as patients are spread out, it really is crucial to prioritize eye health. It’s estimated that 80% of what kids learn is through vision. The reality is, kids don’t know what they can’t see. Having their eyes examined is the only way to ensure that that they don’t have any underlying eye issues or trouble seeing as both are often not as obvious as you would think.
Don’t rely on waiting room activities. Covid-19 has eliminated the communal books, toys and other “quietly wait” activities. Be prepared to entertain.