With the start of school just weeks away, many parents are wrapping up their back-to-school checklists, including scheduling an annual well-child exam. In the midst of the chaos, I encourage parents to recognize the need for an eye examination as part of their child’s wellness and prevention plan.
While it’s not a requirement for school, an eye exam is vital to ensuring your child’s vision is good, that the eyes are working together and that they are healthy. This will give your child his or her best chance for success in school.
More than 80 percent of learning is done visually during the first 12 years of life. A child who does not see clearly can suffer academically, athletically, and even emotionally and socially. Some of the most common vision problems are due to the development of refractive error (the need for glasses), a tracking or eye-teaming disorder or focusing problems, all of which can affect school performance. As many as 25 percent of school-age children have vision problems.
Equally important is what the eyes reveal about overall health. While school nurses check the visual acuity, which is the child’s ability to determine letters in various font sizes at a distance, an optometrist also checks the internal health of the eyes, how the eyes work together as a team and how the eyes focus.
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The optometrist uses a microscope to examine the eye, allowing him to see the internal and external parts of the eye. They check for retinal abnormalities, misaligned eyes and for structural integrity. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of these conditions assures proper visual development and prevents vision loss.
Children need to be checked regularly because their eyes are changing and growing. The American Optometric Association (AOA) recommends children have an eye exam at age 3 and again as they enter kindergarten. Most optometrists then recommend yearly exams for school-age children, including those that need glasses or contact lenses.
Signs your child may have an eye problem:
▪ Holding objects close to his face when trying to focus
▪ Constant eye rubbing
▪ Difficulty reading
▪ Sitting too close to the television
▪ Eyes appear unusual in any way – drooping, crossed
▪ Chronic tearing
▪ A history of eye disorders in the family
▪ Parents or siblings that required glasses in early childhood
Children who exhibit symptoms such as frequent headaches, tearing, tired or achy eyes after performing visual tasks, or who have focusing problems should be seen as soon as they have the symptoms.
High-risk children should be seen annually. This includes those who have diabetes, a family history of eye diseases, children who were born prematurely and those with a significant developmental delay or neurological difficulties.
Common vision problems in children:
▪ Amblyopia (”lazy eye”) – poor vision in one eye. Glasses correction and/or patching of the “good eye” may be needed. If left untreated, it can cause irreversible visual loss in the affected eye.
▪ Strabismus – misalignment of the eyes. Eyes may turn in, out, up or down. Surgery, patching or glasses may help the eyes to align.
▪ Nearsightedness – poor distance vision. Treated with glasses or contacts.
▪ Farsightedness – poor near vision. Treated with glasses or contacts.
▪ Astigmatism is imperfect curvature of the front surface of the eye. Usually treated with glasses or contacts.
Make vision care a part of your child’s routine medical care.
Lisa Sandell is an optometrist at Via Christi Clinic on West 21st Street.