Have you ever seen an infant wearing glasses? Probably not, but parents of infants are encouraged to have their child’s eyesight checked, even before they reach their first birthday. Urbandale optometrist Dr. Melissa Billings says a program called "Infant See" this week is offering free professional eye care for infants.
"Between the ages of six and 12 months, the growth and development of the eye is changing very rapidly and if there’s anything that is impeding that, that can cause a permanent problem," Dr. Billings says. "If we can catch it at an early age, we can do some things to correct that and that way that eye can see 20-20 the rest of their life."
Since a child of that age can’t talk, let alone read off letters from a traditional eye chart, she says they use objective measurements where the optometrist watches the child’s eyes as he or she follows a lighted toy. "We are using instrumentation where I can look at their prescription without them saying even a word," Billings says. "We dialate the pupil to be able to get a better view inside the eye to make sure there aren’t diseases such as retinoblastoma, which is a cancer, to make sure there’s not any congenital cataracts that could be blocking light coming into the eye."
Parents can help their babies with proper visual development, by using a night light or dim lamp in the baby’s room, changing the positioning of the crib, keeping objects within the baby’s focus — about eight-to-12 inches — and talking to the baby as you walk through the room allowing the baby to follow you with his or her eyes.
Billings, a 1996 University of Northern Iowa graduate, says for the typical infant exam, she’ll seat the baby on the parent’s lap to evaluate how the child’s eyes are working together. "All the little toys that they look at are similar to toys they might have in their own house," Billings says. Parents may be asked to bring in some of the child’s favorite toys to be incorporated into the exam. It’s not painful at all for the baby, she says, "It’s almost like playing games — they’re smiling most of the time."
Billings says her office already offers free eye exams to infants between six and 12 months, as do many offices statewide. For more information, visit the Infant See website ( www.infantsee.org ) and click on the doctor finder link.