Free eye tests for kids

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On the first Saturday morning of half term we headed into Birmingham city centre to take Georgie to get her eyes checked – for free – at Optical Express. She hadn’t had an eye test since her Reception year test, so she was overdue for another.

Any child in the UK under age 16, or up to 18 if in full time education, can have their eyes tested free of charge. You also get a contribution towards the cost of glasses, with an optical voucher from the NHS. I booked the test easily via the online chat, and got an email confirmation of the test, and a phone call the day before as well.

The waiting area had comfortable seating, complimentary refreshments, a tv which they switched to CBeebies when there were small children in the waiting room, and children’s activity sheets upon request. Georgie enjoyed designing some funky glasses, and doing the word search while we were waiting between tests.

When we arrived we only had to wait a minute or two before we were asked in to a consultant room so they could take a quick verbal questionnaire about Georgie’s health & lifestyle, and relevant family history.

We headed back to the waiting room after this, where we were offered drinks and Georgie enjoyed the activity sheet while we waited for the main part of the eye exam.

The optician that examined Georgie’s eyes was really good with her – she is quite shy and quiet around new people but he quickly put her at ease. With a variety of equipment and projected letters on the wall, Georgie’s eyes were checked and tested in a whole variety of ways, checking not just her eyesight but also her eye health. He even took extra care when checking her eyes worked and moved together as we told him about Lydia’s squint.

As he tested her eyes, he told us what each test was for, and that her eyes were healthy, working together, and her eyesight is very good, and slightly long sighted which is very common for her age. She doesn’t need glasses at this point though, as she can compensate for it easily due to being so young. One printout later and we were headed on our way. The whole thing was easy, and only took around 45 minutes.

It is reassuring to know that her eyes are healthy, and that she isn’t straining her eyes by needing glasses without us knowing. As her use of screens increases, and she spends more & more time reading and drawing, it is important to have regular eye tests to make sure they continue to be healthy. Georgie isn’t the only child with increased screen time, either – according to a survey by Optical Express children are spending four hours a day looking at a screen, which is double the amount of time recorded in 2017.

We’ll be getting Georgie’s eyes tested yearly, and once Lydia gets discharged from the eye department at Birmingham Children’s Hospital she will join her big sister at the opticians too, for an annual checkup.

One in ten parents don’t know how often children should be taken for eye tests, and also don’t know how to spot the symptoms of poor eyesight. If your child is experiencing headaches, make sure you get them tested as this is one of the main symptoms, along with squinting, regularly rubbing their eyes, and holding things closer or further away than normal to look at them. It’s also a good idea to get them tested at least every two years anyway.

After the appointment we were emailed an iScan report which you can read here – it’s a comprehensive report of Georgie’s test results including all the measurements taken. This is great to have and gives you a good record of your prescription, if you need one.

And what does Georgie think about the whole experience?

I did enjoy it a bit, and it’s nice to know my eyes are working properly. My favourite part was the hot air balloon test.

Some tips to reduce eye damage from screen time at home are encouraging regular breaks from the screens, including some of a few seconds every few minutes and some longer breaks of 10 minutes every half hour, and putting some restrictions in place such as no screens during dinner and encouraging them to balance it with non-screen activities too.

The girls are usually allowed some screen time after school while they relax and have a snack, and then they play for a while before dinner when their time limits are up. We use an iPad at home and the screen time controls on that are great, as we can limit the time per app & app type.

If your kids haven’t had a test for over a year, why not get them booked in for an eye test too? It doesn’t cost anything but a bit of your time, and gives you peace of mind if they don’t need a prescription, and you can get them the glasses they need if they do.

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