Early screening and detection are crucial for children’s eye health as it helps prevent developmental and learning challenges. Pediatric eye specialists deliver specialized eye care services tailored exclusively for children. These specialists include but are not limited to, pediatric optometrists and ophthalmologists.
What Is the Difference Between an Optometrist and a Pediatric Ophthalmologist?
Optometrists and ophthalmologists work collaboratively to provide comprehensive eye care for children. Both address vision needs and eye conditions, but they do it differently.
What is Pediatric Optometry?
Optometry primarily involves non-surgical eye care and vision correction. A pediatric optometrist provides primary eye care and manages common eye conditions for children. They perform eye exams, prescribe corrective lenses, and diagnose certain eye conditions.
When an optometrist is presented with a child who has a severe eye disorder, they will refer the child to a more specialized doctor—a pediatric ophthalmologist.
What is Pediatric Ophthalmology?
It is a medical specialty focusing on children’s eye health from infancy to adolescence. Pediatric ophthalmologists can perform surgical procedures when necessary, such as treating childhood cataracts or addressing other eye disorders. So, a doctor specializing in pediatric ophthalmology may also be referred to as a pediatric eye surgeon.
Why Would a Child Be Referred to an Ophthalmologist?
If your child has been referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist, you must follow through, as early treatment of eye conditions can help prevent vision loss. A child may be referred to an ophthalmologist for various reasons, including:
Complex Eye Conditions
Ophthalmologists are experienced in handling complex eye conditions, such as:
- Astigmatism (imperfection in the eye’s curvature)
- Amblyopia (lazy eye)
A pediatric ophthalmologist also treats serious eye diseases, congenital eye disorders, and eye conditions that require surgical intervention.
Eye Conditions That Require Surgery
Ophthalmologists perform surgical procedures on the eyes, making them the appropriate choice when your child requires surgery, like in the case of childhood cataracts, strabismus (crossed or misaligned eyes), or glaucoma.
Optometrists, as mentioned, do not perform surgical procedures and may refer patients to pediatric eye surgeons for such eye care.
When Should a Child Be Referred to an Ophthalmologist?
A child should be referred to a pediatric ophthalmologist in the following situations:
- When a pediatric eye doctor detects an issue during a routine eye exam that requires specialized attention, they may refer the child to an ophthalmologist.
- If your family has a history of specific eye conditions, your child’s pediatrician may recommend early screening and monitoring by a pediatric ophthalmologist.
- When your child has chronic or recurrent eye infections and standard treatments are ineffective, it is advisable to seek care from a doctor specializing in pediatric ophthalmology.
- If your child sustains an eye injury, you should immediately get them to a pediatric eye specialist for emergency care.
When to See a Pediatric Eye Specialist
Even if your child doesn’t show any symptoms of an eye condition, it is still important to schedule regular eye exams with a pediatric eye specialist. These exams can help detect potential issues early on, even before symptoms become noticeable. Additionally, routine eye exams are crucial to monitor your child’s visual development and ensure their eyes are healthy.
In general, you should consider scheduling an appointment with a pediatric eye specialist if:
- Your child exhibits any signs of eye problems, such as frequent eye rubbing, excessive tearing, squinting, or sensitivity to light.
- There is a family history of vision problems, as certain eye conditions may have a genetic component.
- Your child displays unusual behavior, such as difficulty reading, focusing, or maintaining attention, due to potential eye issues that affect their school performance.
- Your child has a chronic medical condition that could affect their eyes, such as diabetes or juvenile arthritis.
Regular eye check-ups safeguard your child’s visual health and well-being. Your pediatrician can guide you when to initiate these appointments, but typically, the first eye exam should occur in the first year of life, followed by regular check-ups as recommended by the specialist.