When should children get their eyes checked?
It’s recommended all children get their eyes checked by an optometrist before they start school, then every 2 to 3 years throughout primary and secondary school. You don’t need a referral from your doctor to get an eye test with an optometrist.
Could my child have a vision problem?
In Australia, a baby's eyes are checked shortly after they're born. However, their eyes develop quickly, and vision problems can emerge as they grow. It can be difficult to tell if your child has a vision problem. Young children assume that what they see is normal, and they may not tell you if they’re having trouble. That’s why regular visits to an optometrist are important.
If your child is not seeing well, they may:
- squint or partially close their eyes to see things in the distance or close up
- sit very close to the television or computer, or hold books close to their eyes to see
- tell you they can't see the whiteboard or screen at school
- rub their eyes a lot or complain of sore eyes
- appear to strain to see things clearly
- experience headaches
Managing vision problems in young children
Vision problems are diagnosed with an eye test. In young children, optometrists use symbols and pictures to test near and distance vision. If a child can’t understand the tests, they may be shown different sized stripes.
Your child’s peripheral vision — what they can see outside of their field of vision when they’re looking straight ahead — will also be tested.
How a vision problem is treated depends on the problem. Treatment may include wearing glasses all or some of the time (for example, for reading). Older children may be able to use contact lenses.
If your child has vision problems, you’ll need to have your child’s eyes checked regularly especially as, their vision can get worse or improve over time.
If your optometrist prescribes glasses for your child, it’s best to get them as soon as possible. After a certain age, some problems can’t be corrected, and it may result in permanent vision loss that can’t be resolved with glasses.
How do I pay for my child’s eye tests and glasses?
Some states and territories offer free vision screening programs to children at around 3 or 4 years of age. You can ask your child health nurse or preschool if this is offered where you live. Medicare covers eye tests for children by an optometrist once every 3 years.
Medicare does not cover glasses or contact lenses, but you might be able to access state or territory schemes.
Private health insurance with optical benefits cover may subsidise prescription glasses or contact lenses. If you are unsure of your private health rebate, contact your private health insurer.
Tips for wearing glasses
It might take your child a little while to get used to wearing glasses. But it’s important for their long-term vision that they wear them as advised by their optometrist.
Ensure glasses fit properly
The first step is to make sure your child’s glasses fit well. Ensure they’re comfortable – not too tight or loose – and that your child can see through them clearly.
If the glasses start to slip off, or your child is having trouble seeing well, go back to the optometrist, and they can adjust the glasses.
Choose durable glasses
It’s a good idea to select strong, durable frames and scratch-resistant lenses. If you can, buy a back-up pair in case the first pair gets lost or damaged.
Find role models
If your child doesn’t want to wear their glasses, point out that a lot of people wear glasses. Show them role models they know who wear glasses — such as relatives, friends, public figures, book characters, musicians or actors. Even Harry Potter wears glasses!
Introduce glasses slowly
You can ‘introduce’ the glasses gradually, through a part of your child’s routine they enjoy, such as reading a book, or watching a movie. Eventually wearing glasses will be part of their daily routine.
Being consistent is key — for example, putting on glasses after breakfast and praising your child every morning will help them remember to put them on.
How do I care for my child’s glasses?
You can teach your child how to care for their glasses. For example, never put them on a surface with the lenses facing down, since this can scratch them.
If the glasses get dirty, wipe them with a soft cloth. Keep them in a case when they’re not using them.
Remind your child to always be gentle with their glasses — never throw them, bend them or let other kids try them on.
Resources and support
For more information:
- visit your GP — you might need a referral to see an optometrist
- speak to your child health nurse
- find an optometrist.
- visit Good Vision for Life for more information about your child’s vision and signs that your child might have vision problems
Read more on the costs of children’s health care, including vision care at Services Australia.
To find an optometrist near you, and to check if they bulk bill, use the Service Finder tool.
FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: June 2022