Hearing and vision tests for children

Newborn babies and children are routinely checked for problems with their vision and hearing to identify any problems early on in their development.

Although serious hearing and vision problems during childhood are rare, early testing ensures that any problems are picked up and managed as early as possible.

It is important that hearing and vision problems are identified early because any problems can affect speech and language development, social skills and educational development.

Read more about why hearing and vision tests for children are needed.

Routine hearing tests

Shortly after your baby is born, they will have their hearing tested as part of the NHS Newborn Hearing Screening Programme

The screen will usually be carried out before you leave the maternity unit, although in certain areas it may be carried out at home.

If your baby doesn't pass the hearing screen, he or she will be referred to an audiologist (a hearing specialist) for further tests. If there is no reason for concern after the hearing test, you will be given a checklist to help monitor your child's hearing development. It outlines the sounds that babies normally make and the sounds that they should respond to as they grow older.

A baby’s hearing should develop in the following way over the first year of life:

  • from birth – jumps at loud noises
  • 1 month – starts to notice sudden and prolonged sounds
  • 4 months – shows excitement at sounds and smiles in response to the sound of a familiar voice
  • 7-9 months – babbles, gurgles and coos and turns to a familiar voice across a room or to very quiet noises made on each side
  • 12 months – responds to certain words, such as their name

When your child is between two and two-and-a-half years old, they will usually have a general review of their health and development. This review will include checking your child’s hearing and speech development.

Most children will also have another routine hearing test when they start school at around four or five years old.

If for any reason your baby's hearing is not tested soon after they are born, ask your midwife, health visitor or GP to arrange an appointment for you. If you think there may be a problem with your baby's hearing or eyesight, mention it to the healthcare professional carrying out the screening tests.

You can visit your GP if you have any concerns about your child's hearing at any stage of their development.

Read more about how hearing tests in children are performed.

Routine eye tests

Your baby's eyes will first be examined within 72 hours of birth. This simple examination is used to check for obvious physical defects.

They will have a second eye examination when they are between six and eight weeks old, which will usually be carried out by your GP.

Shortly before or after having a baby, all new mums are given a Personal Child Health Record (PCHR), which highlights developmental milestones for vision. A child’s vision should develop in the following way over the first year of life:

  • 6 weeks old – follows a colourful or interesting object, such as a face, with their eyes
  • 2-3 months old – starts to reach for things they see
  • 3-5 months old – starts to mimic facial expressions and look at objects more closely
  • 6-12 months old – focuses on objects that are both near and far away, sees simple shapes, scribbles with a crayon and is interested in pictures

Your child’s vision may also be checked when they start school at around five years of age, but this varies depending on where you live.

Visit your GP or tell your health visitor if you have any concerns about your child's eyesight at any stage.

Read more about how vision tests in children are performed.

Signs of hearing and vision problems

Even though you child will have routine hearing and vision tests, it is still important for you to look out for signs of any problems and see your GP if you have any concerns.

In older children, signs of a possible hearing problem include the following:

  • inattentiveness
  • talking loudly and listening to the television at a high volume
  • mispronouncing words
  • being unsettled at school

Signs of a possible vision problem in a child include:

  • not seeming to recognise familiar faces
  • erratic eye movements or squint (misalignment of the eyes)
  • poking or rubbing their eyes
  • not making eye contact
  • poor attention at school
  • reading difficulties

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