Eye care for children

Your child can get eyesight tests when they’re very young. Children are screened for eye problems when they’re a few weeks old, at two years old and in Primary 1. You need to arrange your child’s eyesight tests after Primary 1.

If you're worried about your child's eyesight

If you have any concerns about your child’s eyesight between their screening tests or after Primary 1, contact your local optometrist (optician) to arrange a sight test or talk to your doctor.

Eye problems can ‘run’ in families. If you wore glasses as a child or have a ‘lazy’ eye, your child is more likely to have the same condition. If eye problems are not picked up and treated, early vision and learning can suffer.

The earlier a problem is found, the more effectively it can be treated.

How long an eyesight test lasts

A child's eyesight test takes about 20 to 30 minutes.

The child may need eye drops to make their pupils bigger and easier to test. It might take longer to do the test if your child needs eye drops. The drops will give the optometrist a more accurate result and will help the optometrist to decide if your child needs glasses or other help with their eyes if a problem exists.

Eye sight tests for older children

Older children are usually tested in the same way as adults. There are specially designed tests for babies and younger children and for some older children if an adult test isn't suitable.

Free eyesight tests

Children under 16 and full time students under 19 get free sight tests on the Health Service.

When a child needs glasses

Children who have been tested on the Health Service and are prescribed glasses, will get a voucher to help towards the cost of glasses.

Children can choose from various practical and fashionable frames. Plastic lenses are recommended for children - they are lighter and safer than glass.

It is important that children who need glasses wear their glasses as recommended and prescribed by the optometrist and especially at school. If your child doesn't wear their glasses at school, this may cause difficulty in seeing the board or with reading and close tasks.

It may also make their eyes tired or cause headaches and affect their concentration. Any of these problems can have a significant impact on a child’s education. It is important that children who need glasses are encouraged to wear them.

The following advice is recommended to encourage and support children to wear their glasses:

  • make sure your child’s glasses are fitting comfortably
  • check their glasses aren't too tight at the side of their head or rubbing behind their ears
  • check their glasses aren't loose or slipping down their nose
  • check they're looking through their glasses not over the top
  • you should have your child’s glasses adjusted and tightened regularly by your optometrist/optician to make sure that they are fitting properly
  • clean the glasses regularly – grubby fingerprints make it much harder to see
  • explain to your child why they need to wear glasses and how their glasses will help their vision
  • understanding why they need them often helps the child to be happier wearing their glasses
  • let your child’s teacher know that your child has glasses and why they need them and ask the teacher to help encourage your child to wear their glasses

Some children may also be attending the orthoptist or hospital eye clinic. It is very important that any treatment is carefully followed and glasses are worn full time.

If your child needs glasses but doesn't wear them, this could affect their vision. It is also very important they go to their eyesight tests.

When a child breaks or loses their glasses

Children under the age of 16 are covered for loss or damage of their glasses. You can go to any optometrist/optician who does Health Service eye tests and get a repair or replacement form.

You will be asked to say what happened and the optometrist will give you a voucher to help with the cost. If you go to a different optometrist from the one who provided the glasses in the first place, you will need to take a copy of the original prescription with you.

Children aged 16 years and over may be entitled to help if the loss or damage of their glasses was caused by a serious illness or disability and is at the discretion of the Health and Social Care Board. Your optometrist will advise how you may get help with this.

Children wearing contact lenses

Children can be fitted with contact lenses. Your optometrist will be able to advise you on their suitability. It's the child's decision whether to wear contact lenses and they will only be provided if they themselves want them, and if their eyes and prescription are suitable for contact lenses.

Children must be able to put the lenses in and out themselves, and understand the need to look after them properly.

Colour blind (colour defective)

Colour vision defects mainly affect boys and are easily diagnosed by an optometrist. There is no treatment for colour vision defects but it can affect career choices.


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