The best time to examine a child's eye is not so much based on age as it is based on observation by parent or teacher of a possible problem. Such problems can include:
sitting too close to things
droopy lid or lids
headache or pain
abnormal eye movement
At birth your pediatrician will screen your baby's eyes in the nursery. If he sees no problems then we recommend his/her first routine eye exam be at three years of age. At three years your child should be able to sit on your lap and name the images of toys at the end of the examination room. Thereafter every several years a follow-up exam should be performed by a professional physicial even though the school system will usually provide screening exams.
We have all heard of lazy eye. To an eye doctor this indicates poor vision usually related to a frequently crossed eye or a difference in the power (refractive state) between the eyes. The child's brain will use the easiest or straightest seeing eye and neglect developing the other eye. The old adage applies, if you don't use it you'll lose it. This poor vision, if not corrected, will become permanent typically after age 6 to 7 years.
Glasses will often straighten a crossed eye but any residual crossing may need surgery. Additionally, patching the stronger seeing eye will enhance the vision in the weaker eye.
Other common problems in young children can include blocked tear ducts with recurrent infections and continuous tearing from birth. This problem will often disappear in the first few months of life due to your pediatrician's diligent use of antibiotics and suggestion to massage over the tear sac. If the problem doesn't clear up then a simple hospital procedure can be done by the ophthalmologist before age 6 months. The success of this 'probe and irrigation' procedure dwindles after 6 months.