Seeing an eye doctor regularly is an important part of keeping your child healthy. If they experience an issue with their eyes that is outside the scope of practice for an optometrist, an ophthalmologist may be needed.

An ophthalmologist has more training and treats a variety of eye and visual conditions. (Learn More) When children are diagnosed with an eye or vision issue that requires more intensive treatment, this type of professional is often involved.

An ophthalmologist can also perform surgery, whereas an optometrist cannot. (Learn More) This allows them to offer a more comprehensive level of care when it is needed.

If your child has extensive eye health needs, it’s likely that their pediatric optometrist will give you a referral to a pediatric ophthalmologist. There are some things to consider when choosing the best professional for your child. (Learn More)

What Is a Pediatric Ophthalmologist?Surgeons performing an eye surgery under the microscope at the hospital - healthcare and medicine concepts

A pediatric ophthalmologist is a medical doctor that specializes in ophthalmology. They undergo the following training:

  • Four years of medical school after completing a four-year bachelor’s degree
  • A year at a surgical or medical internship
  • Residency in ophthalmology for a minimum of three years
  • A pediatric ophthalmology fellowship that takes at least a year

One of the biggest things that sets them apart from a pediatric optometrist is that an ophthalmologist performs surgery while an optometrist does not.

Pediatric ophthalmologists have a higher level of training. This allows them to perform more extensive procedures for the children they see in their practice.

You can find this professional at major hospitals, in clinics, and in their own private practices.

A pediatric ophthalmologist has specialized knowledge that helps them to treat this younger population. During their fellowship, they learn about eye conditions that occur in children. They receive training on performing diagnostic tests and treatments on children, some of which require different techniques compared to how they are performed on adults.

Ophthalmologists may also treat certain conditions that are related to eye health. For example, children with type 1 diabetes are at risk for eye issues that can develop as a result of the condition.

Which Eye Conditions Does a Pediatric Ophthalmologist Treat?

eye doctor working with child

This professional has a diverse scope of practice. Common services that a pediatric ophthalmologist provides include:

  • Eye examinations.
  • Eye disease diagnosis.
  • Treatment for eye injuries.
  • Surgery for the eyes.
  • Diagnosis of visual processing disorders.
  • Prescription of corrective lenses.

This type of specialist provides care for a variety of conditions. Some of the most common include the following:

  • Amblyopia: One eye has blurry vision due to disuse.
  • Astigmatism: One of the curvatures of the eye is more significant compared to the meridian in the other eye, resulting in vision distortion.
  • Chalazion: This is characterized by an inflamed oil gland on the eyelid.
  • Esotropia: This condition is often called crossed eyes because the eyes appear to look at the nose.
  • Exotropia: This condition has the eyes turning outward like they are trying to see the ears. It is also called walled eyes.
  • Hyperopia: With this condition, children may experience blurry vision, especially with objects that are nearby. It is also called farsightedness.
  • Nystagmus: With this condition, at least one eye has involuntary rapid movement.
  • Aphakia: The eye does not have a natural lens.
  • Cataracts: This is cloudiness of the eye’s lens. Some children are born with this, referred to as congenital cataracts. One study shows a prevalence of 3 to 4 per 10,000 births.
  • Conjunctivitis: This is a type of eye inflammation that results from a virus, bacteria, or allergies. It is relatively common in children and often called pink eye.
  • Eye trauma: Any injury to the eye area can result in trauma that may require an ophthalmologist.
  • Glaucoma: Often referred to as pediatric glaucoma, it is relatively rare in children and usually diagnosed by the child’s first birthday. It is characterized by increased pressure in the eye.
  • Myopia: This is also called nearsightedness. It causes blurriness when the child tries to see far away objects.
  • Ptosis: One of the child’s eyelids droop.
  • Retinopathy of prematurity: Abnormal blood vessel growth occurs in the retina.
  • Retinoblastoma: This is a type of retinal cancer.
  • Strabismus: The eyes are misaligned.

types of strabismus

Tips for Picking the Best Pediatric Ophthalmologist

In most cases, your child will only need to see a pediatric ophthalmologist if they have a more serious problem with their eyes or vision. Because of this, it is critical that you choose one that can handle the issue your child is facing.

If this professional is needed, you will likely get a referral from your child’s pediatrician or optometrist.

You can research them online to learn more about their credentials and experience. Make sure to pay special attention to the reviews that are left by other parents who took their children to see them. There are also professional associations for ophthalmologists that can provide you with information about them and their background.

If your child has a specific eye condition, there may be a pediatric ophthalmologist in your area who specializes in diagnosing and treating that issue. For children with no diagnosed eye issues but some general concerns, a general pediatric practice is a good option.

Once you have an ophthalmologist in mind, contact your insurance company. If they are not within your network, the associated costs can be a lot higher. You can also explore which pediatric ophthalmologists are in your network by logging into your account on your insurance provider’s website.

Next, call and schedule a consultation with the chosen ophthalmologist. They will see you and your child and determine what the next steps are regarding your child’s eye health.

When you are at the office, keep mental notes of the environment and the staff with whom you interact. Everyone should be professional and pleasant.

If your child has eye health needs, you want to ensure you are working with a pediatric ophthalmologist who will provide your child with the best care possible. Take some time to choose the right professional for your child’s situation, as it may be the basis of a long relationship.

References

What Is a Pediatric Ophthalmologist? (November 2015). American Academy of Pediatrics.

What Is an Ophthalmologist? (January 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Cataracts in Children, Congenital, and Acquired. (May 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Childhood Glaucoma. (April 2018). Glaucoma Research Foundation.

How Do I Find the Best Ophthalmologist? (April 2018). US News & World Report.